(photo: Lydia Sara Coates)
This review is personal. I have longed for this night for many, many years. There are other places on my blog where you can read about my 25 years of obsessive love for this band. Here they were, where I preach on a Sunday. Bruce Cockburn was one thing a few years ago but here, at last, were Linford and Karin - Over The Rhine! Thank you to promotor Nigel Martin for taking the risk!
And what a beautiful piece of heartache it all turned out to be! I have never basked so much in a sound. Linford’s piano playing carried us away and Karin’s voice gave us flight, the gentlest swoop of an eagle… or an angel. The harmonies washed like a soothing balm and from within lyrics redemption pushed into the veins of my soul.
In a conversation with Linford and Karin the evening before the concert I was sharing how their friend and producer Joe Henry had recently been in town with Billy Bragg. They shared the gorgeous little rumour that Henry might be currently working on new songs of his own. Linford added, “That man opens his mouth and literature pours out.”
“You do pretty well yourselves,” I responded. Their sound man Chad immediately shared his favourite Over The Rhine line and I suggested that “The last time I saw Jesus I was drinking bloody Mary’s in the south,” was the best line in rock music. I might have been exaggerating though it has gotten me thinking. Whatever, throwing out the opening line from Jesus In New Orleans got it in the concert set list. They blamed me if went wrong. Of course, it didn’t.
Jesus In New Orleans is the song that for me best sums up the genius of Over The Rhine. There is the poetry and the social observation. Then there is the personal introspection:
“I know I'm not a martyr
I've never died for anyone but me
The last frontier is only
The stranger in the mirror that I see.”
But the song doesn’t just burrow into the personal soul. It looks out at the condition of our universal humanity:
“Oh, ain't it crazy
How we put to death the one's we need the most?”
Throughout there is a subtle theology. Jesus appears when you least expect it:
“Oh, ain't it crazy
What's revealed when you're not looking all that close?”
While you’re drinking Bloody Marys, Jesus can appear in a woman with Gospel singer Dorothy Moore on the jukebox singing out the clue.
Finally there is less subtle theology:
“But when I least expect it
Here and there I see my Saviour's face
He's still my favourite loser
Falling for the entire human race.”
And that is just one song. The entire set fills out the raison d’ etre. Literature pours out across these harmonies and Karin’s angelic voice. There’s seeking, catharsis and hopefulness. Linford, whose between songs patter is dry, humorous and insightful, says how good it is in days like this, referencing the current state of America, that we have songs to converse with.
The stunning crafted songs fill the fastest two hours of my life, where I simply want to stay in the moment and never have this sound in my ears cease. Highlight are too many to name - Drunkard’s Prayer with its water and wine perfectly placed at the front of Fitzroy Church and adding some whiskey; Meet Me To The Edge Of The World is like Wendell Berry with melody; I’d Want You an apocalyptic love song in Trump times; Born with its yearning to love without fear.
Best of all… Let It Fall, co written with Madonna’s sister Melanie, partner of aforementioned Joe Henry, with its spiritual giving over to grace; the beautiful poignancy of Poughkeepsie about suicide; and the closing All My Favourite People that says it all about this gathering, as a couple’s songs bring us into spiritual community under the roof of a Church.
My Church. Which makes it personal again. Over The Rhine have been in Belfast for two days but with a sickness that had cost them to cancel their last two gigs in the Netherlands they are doing no meet and greet after the show. I sneak them to the back door, give them a hug and they are off up the road to their hotel.
I turn back and smile. That just happened. I have waited a long time. I dragged a lot of people out to hear it. Over The Rhine didn’t let me down. I go back into the most post concert satisfied bunch of my favourite people. I smile and start the dream to have them back!