Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender
2011, Great Speckled Dog/Over The Rhine
It’s been twenty years since Over The Rhine took their first steps toward becoming darling of the alt-folk scene. What started out as a quarter has been whittled down to husband and wife team Linford Detweiler (piano/guitar/bass) and Karin Berqquist (vocals/guitar). While the sense of ambience present on albums such as Till We Have Faces (1991), Good Dog, Bad Dog (2000) and Ohio (2003) may have faded some with the passage of time, Over The Rhine’s new album The Long Surrender displays an intimate and integral sound that is compelling. The Long Surrender will be available of February 8, 2011.
The Long Surrender opens with “The Sharpest Blade”, a slowly meandering folk/rock recitative with mid torch qualities. Gorgeous, sorrowful and heartfelt, Berqquist makes the most of the vocal line. It’s a stunning beginning. “Rave On” has a quiet, impassioned urgency. Berqquist is at her most emotive in a song with a timeless feel. There’s a sense of a universal theme here that’s perhaps just beyond the listener’s reach; unchangeable in form but vibrant in force. “Soon” is deeply melancholy, perhaps even morbidly blue. The darkness of the arrangement and Berqquist’s voice is fascinating. “Undamned” is a gorgeous oil painting in music pondering the saving grace of love. Written from the perspective of a lost, broken soul suddenly wrapped in, and saved by love, the realization dawns on her that she is worth saving. The unmistakable mark of humanity here is vibrant and tangible.
“Infamous Love Song” is pure torch; a love song of broken souls. Detweiler and Berqquist have composed a mini masterpiece here; you nearly see the speakeasy coalesce around you as Over The Rhine begin to play, and sense the waves of sorrow and desperation wafting forth from the patrons therein. The song is amazing: needful and powerful and full of a lonely grace that will refuse to let you go. “Oh Yeah By The Way” explores the words left unsaid after heartbreak sets in. This one’s a vocal duet, and captures the love, pain and regret in a stellar bit of songwriting that is likewise unforgettable. “The King Knows How” is a stylish, bluesy number with a sultry feel that drops references to Elvis Presley and Hank Williams. The song is a bit opaque perhaps, but is entertaining with a sense of surreal sensuality.
“There’s A Bluebird In My Heart goes back to the bluesy torch sound, perhaps not quite as successfully as before. Berqquist continues to excel on the vocal lines, but something about this one doesn’t quite click. “Days Like This” is more ambient in nature, a dreamy folk/pop number that’s ethereally pretty. “All My Favorite People” opens with what might be the best opening line to a pop song ever. “All my favorite people are broken…” launches an exploration of the beauty of the shades of grey that envelope our lives over time. The depth and maturity of the songwriting here is nothing less than stunning, and Berqquist shows a depth and presence the likes of which are generally the mark of a consummate performer. Detweiler also shows off with a healthy dose of Ray Charles-style piano licks. The Long Surrender closes with “Unspoken” is a brief piano-based instrumental epilogue with country accoutrements. Saxophone takes the lead on the melody line in a pretty closer that sounds like the end credits to a film.
Over The Rhine just keeps getting better with time, and The Long Surrender is their most intimate and compelling work to date. Karin Berqquist could sing the Cleveland phone book in the middle of Times Square and draw an audience, and Linford Detweiler shows an almost preternatural ability to build arrangements that fit her voice perfectly. There are a couple of slow moments on The Long Surrender, but on balance it’s hard to imagine The Long Surrender not ending up on a number of year-end lists for 2011.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)