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The Trumpet Child
Artist: Over The Rhine
11 tracks / 42 minutes
Over the Rhine consistently show what the best independent music is all about. They make music from the heart, not to meet contractual obligations; and even though the style will change each time, the quality is almost guaranteed.
That is the case with The Trumpet Child. Following up the emotional intensity of Drunkard's Prayer is quite a challenge, but one they head off by adding some old time flavourings on several tracks to take it in such a different direction that you don't quite make the comparison. (There's a subdued vaudeville feel, for instance, to “Desperate for Love.”)
Actually, you are likely to compare at first, but soon the sheer class of these tracks tells. “Entertaining Thoughts” should be an Over the Rhine classic, but even this hardly got a look-in at the Greenbelt Festival sets that preceded the official album launch.
Dylan's Modern Times may have been a fine celebration of Americana, but I'd rather hear this release any day of the week – and consistently have. The pure country fun of “If a Song Could Be President” shines the spotlight on a parade of musicians from Emmylou Harris to Neil Young and ultimately celebrates the joy of playing music for a living.
In their respective ways, even though these songs do not have the heart-rending visceral root that Drunkard's Prayer sprang from, this duo still drenches everything in feeling. Bergquist could make a gas bill sound heartbreaking and Detweiller has a bar room way with piano that helps the New Orleans influenced feel of this release.
As often with this partnership, the canvas is deftly but lightly sketched and washed before being given a carefully inked line or three from featured instruments. “Nothing is Innocent” enjoys a woodwind that sounds straight from The Jungle Book, while slide guitar gives a sparkle to “I'm on a Roll” and brass fleshes out the imagery that links Christ and trumpet players on the title track. Some superb drumming contributes immensely to the atmosphere and drive throughout the disc.
“Let's Spend the Day in Bed” is a lovely, lazy celebration of love that picks up a repeated murmur of 'We'll get stoned on love' accompanied by a beautifully shimmering guitar line and restrained funky keyboards – just the sort of detail that turns a very good song excellent.
In case there is any danger (not really) of the music getting too similar, along comes “Don't Wait for Tom,” with more of the New Orleans vibe, but this time led by a whispered growl in a rap rhythm by Detweiler.
If you don't believe that this is a collection of immensely addictive tracks, let it stream four or five times from www.overtherhine.com when you are next at your computer and try keeping its needle out of your veins.
Simply put, there's little reason to ever stop playing it.
Over the Rhine are a one of my favorite bands. Due in part to their ability to craft gorgeous and unique music derived from the roots of American folk, country, and blues. I’m also a fan because they hail from my home state of Ohio, specifically Cincinnati.
Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist are the finest of husband/wife duo bands in the industry, and their brilliant songwriting skills mixed with phenomenal musicianship are truly a work of art. On this new project, “The Trumpet Child” we find them exploring some totally different sounds than they ever have before, while at the same time venturing into some of the familiar territories that long time fans have come to love them for.
This album has the feel as if it was conceived back in the glory days of vinyl. Side one would have been the first half of the album, which sounds like it could have been recorded in the 1940’s, with plenty of jazzy bar sounding tunes played to a three piece band of bass, piano and brush stroked drums, backed by a few horns here and there. Of course, Bergquist’s voice is absolutely perfect for this type of music, and she shows it off well on these first half tunes.
Side Two would have been the second half of the album, which is different. We have some rock songs, some country songs and a closing folk song. Fans of Over The Rhine’s masterpiece 2003 double-disc effort, “Ohio” will enjoy this half of this project very much!
Now let’s discuss some of the specific tunes.
“I Don’t Wanna Waste Your Time” is the opening track, and it immediately gives you the realization that this is different than we’ve heard from Over The Rhine before. A horn section gives this song a great intro, that then segways into a piano, as Bergquist sings about the importance of good music, fine wine and good company.
“Trouble” is a fun, whimsical number, that features a jazzy piano riff and muted guitar strum. It sounds just like a cha-cha.
The title track is a slow piano driven number that calls to mind a little of Tom Waits’ early work.
“Entertaining Thoughts” is what I would call the album’s second half opener. This song is a straight up rocker that features some great slide guitar moments as well (think “Show Me” from the previously mentioned “Ohio” album).
“Let’s Spend The Day In Bed” is another standout moment. It’s a song that is co-written by both Bergquist and Detweiler. It is basically about simply taking a day as a married couple, to spend with each other, without any distractions. It’s a day to take in a ‘black and white matinee’ and ‘have a picnic on the sheets’ and ‘toss the dog some treats.’
“Don’t Wait For Tom” features
Detweiler on lead vocals for the first time that I can recall in an Over
The Rhine song. This is another whimsical number about a fun protagonist
with a sly way of looking at life.
“If A Song Could Be President” may be the best three-minute folk song recorded in a long time. It features some phenomenally well-written verses that make some powerful points:
If a song could be presidentIf only the world could be so simple!
Let me say that while this is certainly not Over The Rhine’s greatest album when viewed in light of “Good Dog, Bad Dog” and “Ohio,” yet it still is better than a lot of records that have come out this year. These two Cincinnati songwriters are some of the most talented in the business, and as long as they continue to create great art, I will support them. I recommend you do the same!!
Is it possible to make happy music? Another question would be this: is it possible for Over The Rhine to make a bad record? Now, put the two questions together, and you get The Trumpet Child. So let us see--Ohio was full of hope and faith, but it was poignant and full of grief and loss. Drunkard's Prayer was about a marriage hanging on by a fraying thread and though still together and reborn by album's end, it was melancholy stuff. Here on Trumpet Child, Over the Rhine has healed the grieving, and with romance restored we are being treated to the difficult subject of happiness.
Karin Berquist is fixing to seduce you once more, this time all purposeful as she lets her hair down around husband Linford Detweiler's flighty flirtatious piano flourishes. She's got "garters on my stockings" ("On A Roll") and "Red wine on my lips / Got this black silk slip on my hips" ("Desperate For Love"). This married songwriting duo that is Over the Rhine are staying in bed all day long eating ice cream and kicking back. They are enjoying a Tom Waits concert so much that they write a song in Waitsian mode with a wonderful puns and humor.
Waits is far from the only musical name dropped into these lyrics. Louis Armstrong, Theolonious Monk, Dylan, Emmylou, Steve Earle, Neil Young, John Prine, Lightning Hopkins, and Patsy Cline all get a mention. Detweiler told my late night audience at Greenbelt that he was keen to recognize America's musical legacy; something for the country to be proud of as opposed to the other stuff they exported. That other stuff is no doubt the inspiration behind "If A Song Could Be President," a humorous country strum of an ending that makes its political statements with lighthearted laughter and allusion, but makes them all the same!
Don't panic that it might all be superfluous. The fun is as literary as their melancholy ever was, but they don't leave us without those spiritual, cultural, and political thoughts for which we love them. "Nothing Is Innocent" is a state of the nation observation. "We'd wake the dead / With voices in our head / We've gotten used to ignoring the truth / We close our eyes / And breathe and eat the lies / That tell us we're so much better than you." Flighty and flirtatious, maybe, but don't read frivolous into it. They conclude, "For you and me / In the land of the free / Is anything innocent now?"
The center piece is, as it should be, the title track. "The Trumpet Child" is birthed in Detweiler's roots in the Mennonite Church where there are generations of ministers in his family tree. This is an apocalyptic hymn where jazz musicians team up with angels and the Trumpet Child to put the world to rights, back to how it should be with all the justice that flies in the face of all our rational, sensible ideas of fair; grace! So the rich forget their gold and the meek are bold and "a lion lies beside a lamb / And licks a murderer's outstretched hand." It is craziness, but humanity's only hope. "The trumpet child will lift a glass / His bride now leaning in at last / His final aim to fill with joy / The earth that man all but destroyed." It is a belief system that allows happy albums to find a center. So yes, here is the proof that happy music can be worthy and of course--no--Over The Rhine can never make a bad record!
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.