Review: Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender (Great Speckled Dog, 2011)
On their first album in three years, Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine teams with producer Joe Henry. The darkness of 2005’s Drunkard’s Prayer and 2007’s Snow Angels is still evidenced in the lingering tempos, low, deliberate piano notes, slow shuffling drums and atmospheric pedal steel washes. The vocal phrases are broadly spaced, playing more like extemporaneous thought than written words, and though the lyrics appear straightforward on their surface, their meanings are elusive, thrown into shadow by the questions in Karin Bergquist’s voice and the moodiness of the arrangements. The album’s opener beckons one to recognize a good, yet ultimately failed effort; one is left to wonder if this the voice of experienced pragmatism or a siren’s lure to spiritual death. There are road trips and parades whose poetic allusions dovetail seamlessly with the band’s accompaniment, and a jazz ballad, “Infamous Love Song,” that recalls beat-era poetry.
The troubled love of “Oh Yeah By the Way,” sung as a duet with OTR co-leader Linford Detweiler, is more straightforward, and “Only God Can Save Us Now” cleverly uses a baby doll as a through line between pre-school and old age. Henry’s production is organic to the songs, as though they were developed in tandem. The stick percussion of “The King Knows How” adds tension with clock-like time-keeping, and Detweiler’s piano provides romantic introductions and interludes throughout the album. Bergquist and Detweiler write lyrics of inner emotion, and Henry’s production textures turn these thoughts and words into sound and music. The disc is delivered in a tri-fold digipack with two booklets – one containing lyrics, credits and Joe Henry’s liner notes, and the other a list of nearly a thousand fans who provided financial support for the recording. This is thoughtful, old-school music brought to you by twenty-first century listener-to-artist funding.