It’s our last FORGOTTEN ARTISTS feature of the year and it’s another fine one from regular contributor to this series, Tim Martin. This duo aren’t so much forgotten as criminally neglected on this side of the pond, as Tim observes. Hopefully, this article will encourage more of you to get out and discover this excellent outfit for yourselves.
It might be unfair to call Over the Rhine “forgotten” as they are very much still active, and in the US are certainly on the radar. However, this side of the pond they have never got the attention they deserve. So, this is why you should love Over the Rhine.
The core of the band is guitarist and piano player Linford Detweiler, and his wife singer Karin Bergquist. The band began as a quartet with guitarist Ric Hordinski and drummer Brian Kelley who both departed around 1996. Based in Ohio, Over the Rhine is a district of Cincinnati, they began as an indie rock-oriented band who have gradually adopted more Folk and Americana as time has passed and the group shrank to Detweiler and Bergquist. The key release was ‘Good Dog, Bad Dog’, originally an independent release in 1996 and reissued in 2000 with a slightly different track list by Virgin. Home to songs that remain in their set twenty years later like ‘Latter Days’ and ‘Poughkeepsie’, it moved firmly towards a more acoustic sound and slower-paced songs.
I talked about ‘Ohio’ as part of my top ten Americana albums and described it as “a double album that defies convention by having not one piece of filler. Karin Bergquist is keeper of one of the best voices in any style of music.” It is the place to start with their music, although I can’t imagine that many people who have listened to ‘Ohio‘ won’t look further as well.
In recent years, their songs have become more personal and emotionally intense. Paste magazine, who were early supporters say: “Over the Rhine creates true confessional masterpieces that know neither border nor boundary”. ‘Drunkards Prayer’ from 2005, found them playing out a difficult time in their marriage through the songs. “Although good things were happening with our music, there was just very little energy or creativity or time left over for our marriage, and it was taking a toll on us.” Thankfully, they worked through their issues, in songs like ‘Born’, “Pour me a glass of wine. Talk deep into the night. Who knows what we’ll find” and ‘I Want You to Be My Love’. Two albums produced by Joe Henry followed with ‘Meet Me At The Edge of The World’ being the pick.
Having toured with Bob Dylan and Cowboy Junkies among others, they have their share of well-known fans and supporters with Van Dyke Parks, Aimee Mann and Lucinda Williams all contributing to their albums at various times. Their annual Nowhere Else Festival hopes to return in 2021 with Patty Griffin, Allison Moorer, Birds of Chicago, and Joe Henry all confirmed.
Over the Rhine live are a different prospect to their studio recordings. Songs that were, by their high standards, not the standouts on an album take on a new life. Their many live albums suggest they recognise the power they have in a concert hall. When they come to the UK it is as a duo, and that is where they excel. A line they have used many times is that they are “quiet music that should be played loud”, and the power of Karin’s voice backed by a sparse piano and guitar is really all they need.
The song that best reflects the band is still ‘Latter Days’. Over 25 years it has evolved to sometimes include extended piano openings from Linford. A search round You Tube will find it played on a theatre pipe organ, with an orchestra, and a band version with an E-Bow guitar piece from Matt Slocum. That they chose to end two of the ‘Live from Nowhere’ live album series with this song says that they know its impact on their audience. The most affecting interpretations are however those with just voice and piano. The power of the words and the quiet consideration with which they are delivered is the core of Over the Rhine and if you haven’t heard them, you should. Learn more about the band here.
Selected albums – but you will want them all in the end…
Good Dog Bad Dog: The Home Recordings – 1996
Ohio – 2003
Drunkard’s Prayer – 2005
Meet Me at the Edge of the World – 2013
Love & Revelation – 2019
Changes Come: Over the Rhine Live – 2004
Live From Nowhere, Volume 4