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Drunkard's Prayer
Artist: Over the Rhine
Label: Back Porch Records
Length: 11/50:42

There simply is no justice in this world.  This is not a foreign concept to most of us, but allow an illustration: Sheryl Crow sells millions of records, is a radio staple, and seemingly appears on TV quite often.  Yet Over the Rhine, with a superior vocal presence in Karin Bergquist, languishes in small clubs, enjoyed by a select few who have the opportunity to hear her perform with her longtime partner in crime, Linford Detwiler.

Drunkard's Prayer is a much more intimate project for OtR.  Recorded in their living room, Karin and Linford seem to be a little more laid back, perhaps more at peace on this record than on Ohio.  This record is more of a lazy Sunday afternoon, falling asleep on the couch record, with less strife.  Several songs here celebrate the joy of
marriage, and the fight to honor that commitment.

"Born" would be the single in an ideal world.  The combination of Bergquist's vocals and Detwiler's piano elevate this song above the others, if ever so slightly.  "I Want You to Be My Love" could be a hit if the aforementioned Crow decided to cover it on her next project.  "Bluer" is carried by Bergquist's sultry slide up and down the vocal ranges, down into almost a lisp that she seemingly has trademarked.  This last is only helped by Byron House's presence on upright bass guitar.

"Hush Now (Stella's Tarantella)" could be the next hit to a romantic movie soundtrack.  It effortlessly paints a picture of two people in love, temporarily setting aside their problems, and just enjoying the moment–and each other.

Someday, an enterprising producer will realize there is a lot of money to be made by having this group perform an album of Broadway standards.  "My Funny Valentine" closes the project, taking a song performed thousands of times, and adding just a little extra to it.

Drunkard's Prayer grows on the listener with repeated play, insinuating itself into your subconscious.  You won't realize it until you find yourself singing a song from it days later.  While it does not grab you immediately like Ohio or Good Dog Bad Dog, for example, it will establish a place in your regular rotation. 

Brian A. Smith  5/18/2005



That Drunkard's Prayer is a slow-burn, smouldering beautiful thing you can take as read--it is Over the Rhine, for goodness sake! Here they keep with the organic nature of the utterly classic Ohio album and also hanker back to the stripped-back, do-it-in-your-living-room, sound of Good Dog Bad Dog. And there are the usual tasteful traits: wonderful long lists of rhyming, depth charge one liners, on piano framed melodies and Karin's sensually spiritual voice.

Where this album takes it a cut above the rest is the raw honesty of its story and content. In November 2003 Linford and Karin--the married couple that is Over the Rhine--took themselves off the road. The winter tour had begun well, but as the muse fused in the traditionally perfect way, their relationship was in tatters. To cancel dates was brave; to admit to the reason was vulnerability, not common in the industry. Their time of sabbatical and refuge was painful and, though at times it was far from certain, it ultimately brought healing. They explain opening a bottle of wine and talking until there was nothing left to say. The songs on this album are the exorcism of heir marriage's fracture and the mending. At times the tender and fresh scars elicit tears but then always break into a smile as we see that we are walking on the fragile sacred space of recent salvation. It is in the template of Dylan's Blood On the Tracks, a song cycle of break up, but here we get a twist in the tale--redemption. Over the Rhine have always had a Christian spirituality. Here the songs are not so explicit, but the implicit sum of the parts is redemption.

"Little Did I Know" is for me the center piece. It tugs so hard at your heart that you're waiting for something to burst from your chest. An excellent example is Linford's jazz piano and Karin's beautiful piece of heartache: "Little did I know that I almost let you go / Until I caught a glimpse of life without you . . ." Heart feelings and naked souls have maybe never been captured in song like these testimonies of love wrestling to hold on the for better or worse. Love is joyful in the for better but love is proved in the for the worse and these songs are proof of love resurrected and pursued vows. The other option was never the designer's intention. On "Spark," the soul searching and the need for personal restoration to restore the relationship is a battle with fear which also turns up on Born. On "Spark," "Obsessions with self-preservation / Faded when I threw my fear away" before the lesson is preached, "You either lose your fear / Or spend your life with one foot in the grave."

On "Born," there is conclusion and the new beginning that is another recurring theme:

We've seen the landfill rainbow
We've seen the junkyard of love
Baby it's no place for you and me

I was born to laugh
I learned to laugh through my tears
I was born to love
I'm gonna learn to love without fear

To live through the tears and learn to laugh is brave in itself; to turn it into an album is the audacity that only Over The Rhine would wish to offer or have the ability to achieve. The fans who were invited to pray simply that they'd work it out are now handed the lavish grace of answered prayer and this luscious fruit from the orchard besides!

Steve Stockman 6/8/2005
 
 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org . He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.

 
 

 

 
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