About ten years ago I had a lovely meal in Nashville where Over The Rhine duo Karin and Linford were also around the table. When Anne Lamott came up in the conversation Karin waxed lyrical about a line from Lamott’s current book at the time Blue Shoes. In the opening paragraphs a Japanese Maple tree speaks, “We give you shade, and now we’ll give you a little kick-ass beauty before we die.” Karen spoke of wanting to call an album “Kick Ass Beauty” but ass is a little rude in America. Well rude or not, some ten years later, Karin sneaks it into Blue Jean Sky on this new double record, “Gimme a swig of a little kick ass beauty.” And it is exactly what Over The Rhine do. They have been without question my favourite band for twenty years now, conjuring a consistently brilliant catalogue of work; poetic lyrics, great songs, tasteful instrumentation and always, for those with ears to hear a spiritual depth.
Meet Me At The Edge Of The World stays in the sonic terrain that the band have traversed since Brian Kelley and Ric Hordinski left a long number of years back. It is not far from Neil Young Harvest territory, though their sweet cover of The Band’s It Makes No Difference here is also a good point of reference! It is country tinged with little dollops of folk and blues. It is acoustic and organic but always throwing in splashes of instrumentational intrigue. Mellow doesn’t always mean melancholy with Over The Rhine, though they do melancholy well, but this record is centred around the place that they have lived for ten years or more now; a place that they call Nowhere Farm. It is a place of solace for Linford and Karin. A place to love each other. A place to ponder their spiritual meaning in the world. A place of beauty that has inspired a stack of beautiful songs. If you follow the band you will be familiar with Linford’s letters that poetically describe the changing seasons, the birds, the wildlife, the trees and flowers. I guess what they have done here is to make all of that into songs. Titles like All Over Ohio, The Birds Of Nowhere Farm and Wildlife Bouquet let you know what I mean.
The obsessions for Over The Rhine are love, life and faith and how they all blend. The love of Johnny and June Cash is an inspiration on Earthbound Love Song and their own love for one another is evident throughout emotionally, spiritually and physically. There are explicit prayers as on Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body and there are implicit songs like Jesus Loves Me and The Alleluia Chorus. Don’t think however that they are away out there on the edge of the world with nothing to say about what is happening at the centre. In my very favourite All Over Ohio where they converse with one another over nine intoxicating verses Linford preaches:
have seen the slow corruption
Of the best ideas of Christ
In the pulpits of our nation
Gospel turned into white lies
If you preach a subtle hatred -
The bible as your alibi
Goddam you right here in Ohio.”
Oh how I love them! Kick ass beauty? Absolutely!