On Sunday night, Over The Rhine brought their uniquely American sound to the home of English Folk Music. The Kennedy Hall in Cecil Sharp House is an imposing room and appeared to be full. While their albums and live shows in the U.S often feature a full band the essence of Over The Rhine is Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler as a duo, mixing voices, piano & acoustic guitars. What struck me after hearing their live recordings was the emotional power of Karin’s singing on Born and Latter Days. On recent songs Linford shares the vocals more and this lends a warmth and intimacy to the songs, they often seem sing to each other as much as to the audience.
Starting with the title song from their most recent album, ‘Meet Me At The Edge of The World’, Karin & Linford pulled out songs from most of their albums of the last twenty years. The music is steeped in country, they mention Johnny Cash often, and they played Earthbound, their tribute to Cash & June Carter. There are elements of other American music – folk, jazz and gospel running through many of their songs, the cocktail lounge piano on Trouble, and the revival meeting feel of Jesus In New Orleans. There is a hymn like quality to many of their best songs, accentuated by Linford, who was clearly enjoying the hall’s real, if slightly battered, piano, taking several extended introductions and codas while Karin smiled indulgently at her husband.
Over The Rhine are a group who people tend to hug to themselves as their own personal treasure. Talking to others before and after everyone has their favourite song, and often a story to go with it. Some of the Americans present seemed surprised that their secret was out. Stories are the heart of the songs, and Karin and Linford spent time relating a few as well as the now obligatory comment on current happenings in the USA. A favourite, Time of Light, a song about their Ohio farm brought a plug for the Festival they hold there each May. Surprisingly they didn’t mention the crowd funding campaign for their next recordings.
Highlights of the show? Born, When I Go and Let it Fall stood out, but I’m a fan and the set list was near perfect, for me and others. For the encore they brought up long time collaborator Jack Henderson to play his song Holy Rain, and finished with the upbeat All I Need is Everything from “Good Dog, Bad Dog” the album that started the current phase of Over The Rhine’s journey. The only downsides to the night were Karin’s wayward mic stand and a rather bass heavy mix on Linford’s guitar, surprising in a place where acoustic music rules.
While Over The Rhine can sustain a full tour in The Netherlands a single show in London (and Belfast & Dublin) is all they can risk here at present. So if you were there share the news, if you weren’t visit their website, listen to the songs and become as entranced by this uplifting music as the rest of us. I joined the signing queue afterwards and inevitably ended up tongue tied when it came to my turn. In Latter Days Karin sings, “There’s more to life than words.” Not when they are sung by Over The Rhine there isn’t.