Poetry, grief, hope, emotional exposure and delectable sound – it’s all there in a collection that is as definitive of their work as any Over the Rhine release.

Label: Great Speckled Dog
Time: 11 tracks / 41 minutes

It says something about the strength of a song, when you hear it once live and recognise it immediately on hearing the studio version – which points straight away to several strong songs on this album.

It has been four years since their last release and the time has clearly been spent in polishing these works to a gleam, such is the natural fit of words and music, and the artistry of the lyrics: “In the crawlspace under heaven, in the landscape of a wounded heart, I don’t know where to start” and “We’re not curable, but we’re treatable” are just two striking lines of many.

While Detweiler is playing more piano than on Edge of the World, it isn’t always up front, but when it gets space around it to shine (the wonderful “Broken Angels”) it transports you straight to the centre of the duo’s emotional heart. I could hear him play for hours on end, but it would probably leave me either a sobbing wreck by the end or in a place of ecstatic peace.

But it’s not just him. At times, the chord sequences are clearly very common, but still the song’s heart shines through, such as on “Los Lunas,” where the pedal steel takes things to a sublime level.

That track is a good example of Bergquist’s way of inhabiting songs so naturally that, even if she is voicing other people’s situations, they come straight from the heart. There is something vulnerably tremulous about her singing, vocally strong, but emotionally fragile – and everyone around her plays in sympathy. It all feels like she has summoned you into a private corner and started confiding just in you.

There is a lot of sadness in these songs (they have come to that stage of life where people die – and not always the old ones and not always naturally). Bergquist tends to write these and Detweiler’s songs seem to have a bit more hope threaded through.

As always, they mix the spiritual and the sensual, all reflecting back their recent experience. Sometimes the songs are deeply personal:
    “I’m remembering your kisses, our lips raw with love.
    But the fact that you still make me laugh is what I’m most proud of,”

At other times a wider observation breaks through:
    "Stop confiscating Jesus,
     Jesus, who believes this?
     They‘d arm him to the teeth,
     but that’s not my belief
     I believe in love & revelation."

This is as pure an OtR sound as they have delivered. As well as the piano, back are the exquisite decorative touches once given by Ric Hordinski’s guitar, but now from Brad Meinerding’s. Aiding him are streams of pedal steel and occasional strings. Setting it all off are some rich subterranean bass notes.

There is so much more to enjoy on this release, such as the intimate harmonies on “Let You Down;” the shuffling rhythm of the story song “Leavin’ Days;” the way that “Rocking Chair” sounds at first like an off-the-cuff song, but really catches the tension between relaxing at home and needing to get on the road; and the bonus of an instrumental at the end. Then just as it opens with an OtR classic-to-be, the last full song “May God Love You (Like You’ve Never Been Loved)” seems destined to be a set-closer for years to come.

Over the Rhine retain passionate followers and seem to find it easy to pick up new ones. This collection will only help – and if the two further releases due in this 30th year are anything like this, then I can sense a lot of folks also scouring their back-catalogue to see what other gems they have missed.

Derek Walker
Over the Rhine November 2018 review here.