The genius of Over The Rhine’s Christmas records is not just that they put the emotions and stories of the rest of the year into the Christmas story, it is that they also put the Christmas story into the rest of the year. This is why I can with integrity listen to their Christmas records, particularly Snow Angels and this new one Blood Oranges In The Snow, in November. Actually you could listen to these songs in July and not feel it out of sync.
Blood Oranges In The Snow come in their usual organic and rustic Americana beauty, laying a musical foundation for Karin Berquist’s angelic voice through which they deliver poetry pretty much unequalled among their peers. That poetry is permeated with depth of human experience.
These particular songs are suffused with a melancholy that peels back the sentimentality of Christmas that even Christmas carols have yielded to the temptation of. In these songs people lose parents, are struggling with drink and homelessness. There is a world at war in the very place the Christ child was born to bring peace. These are songs that expose the sadness and weariness of a world on the brink of hopelessness.
Yet, there is hope being marinated through the whole batch. Grace is a baby in straw; old hymns around the fire; sparkling rumours of redemption at play; faint Christmas bells; confidence and grace; a hope for all mankind; biblical verse in neon above the trash; bright future in a checkered past.
Right in the middle is Over the Rhine's finest moment; Let It Fall. How many time have I listened to this song as a prayer, as a meditation, as a sermon in the beauty of melody. A song for those who have lost, who are trying too hard. A song that runs us back to the heart of the Advent and the best advice you'll hear this December:
"‘Cause rain and leaves
And snow and tears and stars
And that’s not all my friend
They all fall with confidence and grace
So let it fall, let it fall"
I love the warm fire, family together, nicely decorated, Santa calling, presents opening, turkey eating Christmas. However, there is so much more. If you lean in and listen you will hear the possibilities of something new. Something earth shattering has hit the world in the image of a soft baby in straw. It is such a deeply resonating thing that it should not be contained to a couple of weeks of the year. It should be sprinkled across the whole year like the sparkling rumours of redemption mentioned on this record. That is what Over The Rhine do. Christmas songs for all year round; for that is what Christmas should be.