Superlatives are left impotent as I attempt to describe Over the Rhine’s sixth album proper, tenth if we count various rare track compilations and a Christmas album. I found myself gasping throughout at the melodies, the poetry, the spiritual insight and the reflections and echoes of my inner most grappling with how God interacts with this beautiful yet fatally tainted human race and we with God.
Then of course there is that voice. Karin Berquist has a voice that is seductive like no other, seducing your heart and your soul with a sound that is so otherworldly that you are not sure if your mortal ears can listen. Was it Julie Miller who stated that this was the voice that all of us would have in heaven; the women at least!
Musically this is as satisfying a sound as anything they have released before. Where the production on their first Back Porch release Films For Radio was chasing Dido and Sinead O’Connor into a little too modern, for me, pop this is ambient in the most gorgeously organic and acoustic of ways.
Linford Detweiler who along with that angelic voice is the other half of Over The Rhine has released two instrumental piano albums and here for maybe the first time the piano drives the entire thing, way forward in the mix, and navigated sweetly by a lot of pedal steel. That piano and that voice are a match made in heaven “a beautiful piece of heartache” as Latter Days on another album Good Dog Bad Dog suggests; a chemistry that explodes gently in aural ecstasy.
The songs? Well What I’ll Remember Most, Jesus In New Orleans, Lifelong Fling, Long Lost Brother and Remind Us are simply the best songs these guys have ever written. People will say that a double album is a little ambitious in the days when you can easily squeeze 75 minutes onto a single disc and though you could probably pick out the thirteen tracks that would have made the single record cut you would not have wanted to have missed the trippy How Long Have You Been Stoned, the Gram Parsons country rock of Show Me or the Gospel Choir of the hidden track Idea #21 for anything. In fact a triple CD would have been justified. Bring it on!
As writers Linford and Karin have never been so up front about their faith. Jesus In New Orleans probably typifies their approach. The last place that you expect to find Jesus is where he is and just maybe that is exactly where we should have been looking all along. There is drink and doubt and angels being wrestled and there is war and rumours of war and death; a whole lot of death.
These guys were going through the pain of personal sorrow at the same time as America was in national mourning around September 2001. It seems that it has brought their writing face to face with mortality but also the life they have lived, are living and that in itself directs them to the destinations they need to set out for while they understand that eventually it will be home that they return to; in their case Ohio!
In the earth of their native state, Over The Rhine have made their ordinary every day world extraordinary. They have found a severe mercy in the midst of their personal as well as humanity’s deepest darkness. They have delved deep to find hope in the tragedies our darkness create. They have found a place of joy in the midst of the certain-to-come-our-way tears. They have used all their wrestling to weave poetry and music into a tapestry of utterly astonishing beauty. Ohio, be proud.
Over The Rhine play Fitzroy on March 30th 2017. Tickets available in Fitzroy or here http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/over-the-rhine-an-acoustic-evening-belfast-30-03-2017/event/3800518702F615ED