Not many folk bands in 2019 can say they’ve been together for 30 years. Even fewer can pride themselves on maintaining an independent career after this kind of music has waxed and waned in mainstream popularity. But on their 15th LP, Love & Revelation, Ohio-based duo Over the Rhine continues to assert its mastery of the style.
It can be easy to fall into a sense of stasis in some branches of folk music; singer-songwriters setting poems to acoustic guitar strumming rarely stray from such admittedly effective delivery. Love & Revelation maintains a fairly consistent tempo throughout its 11 songs, which eases listeners into its intentionally contemplative mood, but also yields a stagnant pace for 40 minutes. Its strengths lay in thoughtful storytelling and rich musical accompaniment of piano, pedal steel, and mandolin.
Over the Rhine’s Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler are anything but stationary in their lives, though. Thematically, in fact, Love & Revelation is almost the complete opposite of the band’s previous album, 2013’s double album Meet Me at the Edge of the World. Six years ago, when the partners moved to their rural Martinsville farm, they wrote about the process of migration and the emotional weight and relief of finding your place. On Love & Revelation, the weight of mourning and grief sits like humid summer air while hope floats through like a passing breeze.
Love & Revelation opens with that sadness: “I cried all the way from Los Lunas to Santa Fe and on to Raton,” Bergquist begins on “Los Lunas.” The precise situation remains unclear — Bergquist and Detweiler note that throughout the process of writing and recording this record, they and their friends and family have suffered the deaths of loved ones, chronic illnesses, and health crises, in addition to this country’s constant political stress — but the specificity is less important than the feeling. They could have taken one path instead of another and they’re left to reconcile with their choices. The opening trio of “Los Lunas,” “Given Road,” and “Let You Down (with its crushing realization that “grief is love without a place to go”) encapsulate universalities disguised in personal touches.
The songs of hope on Love & Revelation stand out among the band’s best work. “Betting on the Muse” and the title track (the former credits Detweiler as the primary songwriter, while the latter cites Bergquist) feel like complementary love songs. For listeners, it’s easy to hold on to such personal affection and resilience like lifelines, especially as these are the most upbeat songs on the record. “Betting on the Muse” also features some of the strongest harmonies on Love & Revelation. Bergquist and Detweiler trace frustrations and reinventions, singing:
My courage often staggers,
but still we climb the stairs.
I lie awake and wonder
Are they songs or are they prayers?
This beautiful delusion—
if it’s all a ruse, it’s such a lovely setting
for my snakeskin to keep shedding,
I’m still betting— betting on the muse.
After 30 years, though, it seems like those bets — on both their band and each other — have paid off.