I Surrender ... To Over The Rhine

By Gretchen Stein Henry

Proof that there is a music genie, ready to grant my wishes, Over the Rhine was in town again recently (Saturday, November 5th). The Cincinnati-based band, fronted by the multi-talented husband and wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Berquist, has performed here enough times now that its name should be a household word.

Playing in the Bomhard Theater at the Kentucky Center, the band came to the stage with no introduction - not that they needed one. It was a humble way to take the stage, and I liked it. No fanfare. No fireworks. No… AND NOW, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Not necessary. We all knew what was coming. And, boy, did we ever get it.

Most of the songs they performed were off their latest album, The Long Surrender (otherwise noted), produced by Joe Henry. (He is a much-sought-after producer and highly revered musician in his own right, with a Louisville connection.) I quickly surrendered and have listened to this CD endlessly even BEFORE it was officially released. I know every word to every song, and it was all I could do to stop myself from belting them out. However, when I realized the audience had not bought tickets to listen to me try to imitate Karin, I got a glass of wine. And a second.

Karin's voice is just the best. I'm not even going to try to get all flowery or use multiple adjectives just 'the best' says it all. On Saturday, it seemed to sound even better than ever, so rich, with her expressions and phrasing so 'her'. I just felt that she sounded… I don't even know the words to use without cussing, but she was dang good.

The sound was as full as ever, with just four musicians on the stage: Linford on the piano and guitar; Karin on guitar; Nicholas Rudina on percussion and guitar and Jason Goforth on the steel lap guitar and harmonica, all of which came together for as much musical magic they could squeeze into our ears. And it felt good.

They opened with "The Laugh of Recognition" from their latest album. As I mentioned earlier, this album and I are kinda going steady, so it was like meeting your sweetie for a great meal relaxed, knowing delicious things were to follow. And the delights kept coming. Am I getting corny? Too bad, it's only gonna get worse. The bare and breathy, sexy tribute to Buddy Holly, "Rave On" followed. Damn, that's a song-and-a-half.

Dedicating the next song, 'Suitcase," from 2007's Discount Fireworks, to Lucy Wainwright Roche, their sweet, sometime opening act, must have been a friendly wink referring to Ms. Roche's heavy travel schedule. She plays all over tarnation, so her suitcase is surely always packed and ready to hit the road. "I'm On A Roll" was next on the list (Trumpet Child, 2007). This song is such a one-of-a-kinder, both lyrically and melodically. It's so cute and fun. But that whole album is crazy good.

Prefacing the verse-endowed "Infamous Love Song," Linford said he'd heard Bob Dylan refuse to apologize for his long songs, and since Bob Dylan obviously knew what he was doing with a song or two, Linford decided that was a good policy to follow. So the love song comes to us with no apologies for its length and when you get it, you see it needs none. How can you say it all in fewer words? These songs touch something in all of us, recording moments we all see or experience for ourselves. "In Only God Can Save Us Now," Karin recounts the nursing facility and patients where her mother now calls home. How many of us have or will face this situation? Seeing both the tragedy and comedy unfold before her when she visits, Karin writes of the lighter side to get her/us through.

After a long and apparently draining road trip, Linford wrote "Latter Days" (Good Dog, Bad Dog, 2000). It is hauntingly familiar with its feeling of exhaustion and almost wanting to give up. Being a touring musician must sometimes feel like a traveling salesman peddling his wares. Every day is 'show time', whether you feel like it or not. Thank goodness, he still feels like creating new wares. Like the next song they played, as of yet unnamed. I've dubbed it "Sacred Ground," which is repeated in the lyrics, so don't go thinking I'm some genius or something. Wait a minute… This tells me there's something coming on the OtR horizon, which is a thrill.

As I'm reading the set list, the flow of the songs is a thing of thoughtful beauty itself. Karin shared that the next song was written at a particular time in her life, which we've all had and gotten through in our own ways. "Jesus in New Orleans" (Ohio, 2003), speaks of our search for ourselves and the things we cling to to help us get there. Lord, these words reveal some familiar scars. Music therapy is real, folks.

In "Trouble" (Trumpet Child, 2007), Karin revealed she has a weakness for a man's - OK! - Linford's stubble. (So THAT'S why he sports the 5 o'clock shadow 24/7.) Unsolicited advice says: sell ALL Gillette stock today! It's a great little song that shows the playfulness between the Mrs. and her Mr. The last song of the set, "All My Favorite People are Broken," is a powerful description of the human condition. It starts out sounding almost old-fashioned, all light and piano-y, but I see that as a balance to the weight of the words. When you read the lyrics alone, prepare to have your breath taken away. The light and piano-y stuff is a welcome equalizer.

The first song of the encore was shared with Lucy. Then, a great and slow version of Bruce Springsteens's "Hungry Heart," followed by "Born" (Drunkard's Prayer, 2005) and ending with "Drunkard's Prayer" (Drunkard's Prayer, 2005). That is one helluvanalbum, too. But, then, they all are, really.

And just like a "drunkard," I always want more from the OtR stash of goodies, but I know they'll return and I will once again surrender to whatever they have to give. And I always will.