Over The Rhine

Over The Rhine

“It’s a collection of songs that required some extra real estate,” Linford Detweiler says of Over the Rhine’s Meet Me At The Edge Of The World, the latest product of his prolific two-decade musical collaboration with longtime partner Karin Bergquist.

Indeed, the two-CD set, recorded with producer Joe Henry and released on the band’s own Great Speckled Dog label, marks something of a landmark in Over the Rhine’s large and remarkably accomplished body of work, exploring some challenging new musical territory while featuring some of the duo’s most compelling songs and performances to date.

The double album’s 19 songs—18 original compositions plus a memorable reading of The Band’s classic “It Makes No Difference”—are both introspective and expansive, embodying the same mix of lyrical eloquence, emotional nuance and melodic soulfulness that have already won Bergquist (vocals, acoustic guitar, tenor guitar) and Detweiler (vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboards) a passionate fan base and considerable critical acclaim.

Paste has praised Over the Rhine’s “lovely, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting musical mosaic,” while USA Today made note of the group’s “mature, graceful and sad songs (and) intimate, soulful arrangements,” which “showcase Bergquist’s achingly beautiful voice.” Newsday described the music as “aggressively beautiful, like those ’60s protesters who confronted soldiers with flowers.”

“There may be no more soothing voice in music than Karin Bergquist’s,” observed Entertainment Weekly. “She could be interpreting jazz standards, but fortunately she applies that balm to her and husband Linford Detweiler’s beautifully languid originals, which invoke hard times and celebrate the survival of the least fit.”

Meet Me At The Edge Of The World’s blend of confident songcraft and creative restlessness is apparent on such vividly expressive new songs as “Meet Me at the Edge of the World,” “Sacred Ground,” “All Of It Was Music,” “Favorite Time of Light,” “Wildflower Bouquet” and the haunting “Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down,” which features guest vocalist Aimee Mann.

The songs that comprise Meet Me At The Edge Of The World were largely inspired by the atmosphere of the couple’s rural Ohio home of the past eight years: a ramshackle farmhouse built in 1833, amidst the rolling, tree-lined fields of rural Highland County.

“These songs all grew loosely out of the soil we live on,” Detweiler explains. “We had always dreamed of having a piece of unpaved earth which would serve as our home base, just like many other American artists or writers that are immediately associated with a specific geographical place. We call our place Nowhere Farm: nowhere, or now here, depending on how you look at it.”

“We realized when we moved out here that we didn’t know the names of much of anything,” Bergquist notes. “We began to learn, and once we had, the names of the trees and the weeds and the birds began slipping into our songs. When Linford’s father, a birder all of his life, first saw the farm, he encouraged us to ‘leave the edges wild.’ That became an important metaphor for us on a number of different levels, and the line appears on this record in several places.”

While the duo drew artistic inspiration from their home environment, they received financial support from their fans in bringing Meet Me At The Edge Of The World to fruition. Rather than use a conventional third-party crowd-funding site like Kickstarter, they appealed directly to their fans, via their website, for help in financing the recording. The fans responded enthusiastically, showing their support with contributions of between $15 (a simple pre-order with bonus tracks) and $5000 (for a private concert, and executive producer credit etc) in order to make the ambitious project a reality.

“It’s actually divided into two short records, 35 minutes each, two distinct chapters,” Bergquist explains. “A decade ago, we found ourselves releasing a double album called OHIO that became an important project for us and our audience. In neither case were we completely aware we were making a double album while we were making it. It had to be revealed.”

Meet Me At The Edge Of The World marks Over the Rhine’s second collaboration (following 2011’s The Long Surrender) with Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry, an iconoclastic singer-songwriter in his own right whose production resume also includes acclaimed albums with the likes of Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke, Bonnie Raitt, Allen Toussaint and Loudon Wainwright III.

“The records that Joe’s been involved with all have a unique, funky, organic vibe. There’s something mysterious going on that is hard to explain. But they tend to tug at the soul,” Detweiler says.

Bergquist, Detweiler and Henry gathered a stellar musical cast that included drummer Jay Bellerose, guitarist/pedal steel player Eric Heywood, bassist Jennifer Condos, keyboardist Patrick Warren (Disc One) and guitarist Mark Goldenberg (Disc Two) plus a few notable guests (David Piltch, Van Dyke Parks and Aimee Mann) and cut all 19 of Meet Me At The Edge Of The World’s songs in six days.
“It was all about capturing what was happening in the room,” says Bergquist. “Everything on this record is recorded live, so you’re hearing the sound of a band leaning in and conjuring something in real time.”

Meet Me At The Edge Of The World also showcases the developing vocal chemistry that’s become an increasingly prominent element of Over the Rhine’s performances, as featured on such new numbers as “All Over Ohio” and “Earthbound Love Song.”

“In the past, I’ve always been gun shy about singing, and would actually have a fair bit of physical pain whenever I tried to sing,” Detweiler admits. “But after years of working together, Karin gently encouraged me to try singing through the pain to see if there was anything on the other side, and I think I finally learned how to relax. This is the first record where you can really hear us singing together. It feels a little bit like starting a new band.”

Native Ohioans Detweiler and Bergquist launched Over the Rhine as a quartet in the spring of 1989, naming the ensemble after the historic, bohemian Cincinnati neighborhood Over-the-Rhine, where they lived and first wrote and recorded together. Their early demos and performances quickly struck a chord with listeners, and they already had a solid local following by the time they launched their recording career with a pair of well-received independently-released albums, Till We Have Faces (1991) and Patience (1992).

Over the next two decades, Over the Rhine continued to build a musically and emotionally potent catalogue, encompassing the studio albums Eve (1994), Good Dog Bad Dog (1996), Films For Radio (2001), Ohio (2003), Drunkard’s Prayer (2005), The Trumpet Child (2007) and The Long Surrender (2011), the holiday-themed The Darkest Night of the Year (1996) and Snow Angels (2006), the live Changes Come (2004), and a series of limited-edition CDs featuring live, rare and unreleased material.

The fierce independent streak that has fueled Over the Rhine from the start asserted itself when Bergquist and Detweiler decided to release 2007’s The Trumpet Child on their own Great Speckled Dog label (named after the couple’s Great Dane, Elroy). The Long Surrender marked the band’s first venture into fan-funded recording.

“We are blessed with an incredibly devoted audience who’ve assured us that they have invited our music into many of the significant milestones a human can experience,” Detweiler states, adding, “People have told us that they fell in love, or walked down the aisle, or conceived, or went off to war, or buried loved ones, or gave birth to our music. And so forth. At the end of the day, what more can a songwriter ask for?”

Meet Me At The Edge Of The World’s effortlessly engaging, timelessly resonant songs more than justify such loyalty, once again validating Over the Rhine’s enduring musical mission.

“We see our catalog as our life’s work,” Bergquist concludes. “It’s imperfect and broken, but we’ve also come to see our records as strangely beautiful and valid in their own way—much like life itself.”

Tift Merritt

As 2015 began, I had somehow been on the road for the fastest, longest two years of my life. I had kicked the tires hard touring in support of my album Traveling Alone. I had recorded and toured with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein. My friend Andrew Bird asked me to be in his old time band the Hands of Glory, so I pretended I was a member of the Carter family on guitar, and I watched him like a hawk to make sure he felt fully free; singing harmony with Andrew is not unlike flying. Suddenly, I was turning 40, getting divorced, and scared out of my mind. So I decided to take a year off the road to see what would happen to me if I just stopped touring… On a friend’s ranch in Marfa, Texas, in the middle of the high plains without a car headlight in sight, I did just that, and when I did, I started to do what I always do: the humble work of marking life by writing.

On the ranch, I wrote about the long straight roads in west Texas: the ones that make sense, that make you feel like what is behind you is indeed behind you and that good things are up ahead. ‘Wait For Me’ is a wish that life would run like that. Watching the ranch hands keep their daily routine, I wrote about keeping my own head down, pressing on, and the way that love persists and pushes forward no matter what happens, ‘Love Soldiers On.’ I watched birds learning to fly and bathe in the driveway dust at dusk in the front yard and wrote ‘Icarus’ about what they taught me. In my California cabin, I wrote every morning and hiked every afternoon, up the mountains to the East and along the rocky coast, farther than I had ever hiked, one exhausted foot after the other. ‘Heartache is an Uphill Climb’ began in the red mud on one particularly impossible incline. Once, having hiked farther than I realized, dark fell on me. The white lilies in a meadow began to glow like evening dresses as the moon rose in the changing light. ‘Proclamation Bones’ is a tribute to that unexpected beauty, to nature’s secret nightlife. On return to NYC with Raymond Carver’s All of Us: The Collected Poems in hand, his poem ‘My Boat’ leapt up like lightning; it wanted to be sung. In a hungover moment of joy coming out of a subway, ‘Something Came Over Me’ seeded itself. And the heavy sadness of memory washing over me as I looked out at the East River became ‘Eastern Light’.

Look, everyone knows that album bios are usually full of crap. How about this: This album weathered no doubt, Marlon Brando’s ghost played bass and a fire-breathing dragon co-wrote the songs! Let’s be clear about something – What made my time off special was that I had a regular writing routine. I was private. I followed my heart and my craft. The story of being a writer is the story of being devoted over a long time. What I hate most about bios is that they trade the small virtue of the writing life for pretending that artists and albums spring forth fully formed, trimming the tale to fit the spotlight. I’m more comfortable being real about things. I took my life and synthesized it through my writing with an intensity that no one but the birds saw but that hopefully you can feel. And life continued. Let the real story here be that there is love and beauty in the mess of dedication.

And life did continue. In Fall, my friend MC Taylor asked me to be a part of his new Hiss Golden Messenger album. About the same time, to my delight and surprise, I realized my boyfriend and I were expecting a child. I performed with HGM just as I began to show; MC and his band talked on and on about how North Carolina was a place you could actually raise a child AND be a musician. My roots and my friends pulled. In an airport, I bumped into my friend Sam Beam. He said I could send him my songs, and when I did and he said, “I can tell you’ve been working hard on your writing,” I was filled with the gratefulness which comes from being heard. I couldn’t believe he wanted in on the record making party, along with my favorite musicians, for four days because that was what I could afford. One long night before leaving for the studio, I stared at the ceiling of my NYC apartment. The leaves, the streetlights, and the sirens drew a shadow vine. I cried for dreams that were gone, and I gathered myself for those to come. I recorded in Los Angeles six months pregnant and then set off for home to figure out what a onesie was. I showed up back in my hometown knocked about a little by the world thinking maybe my life was a country song, but maybe it was a really good country song.

What strikes me most when I am writing these days is the changing nature of things. Sometimes sex matters deeply, sometimes family eclipses all; sometimes aloneness is hell, sometimes it is a refuge. Sometimes hometowns are constricting; sometimes they are a sight for sore eyes. We do our damnedest. For all the times we are watered down and compromise, we can become rigid and impossible just as easily. We right ourselves as best we can and carry on. It is a loose thread that holds us best together in this life. Not too tight, not too planned, enough give to stand what tangles us but ties us nonetheless. Ties us to each other in some unseen pattern, to our actions, to the songs that come out of us, to the seasons that pass through us. We press on, love persists, and we must trust the unknowable pattern we are making. My little daughter is sleeping beside me now, and what I hope for her is what I will tell you now. May these threads be joyful; not heavy chains, but light like wings, like starlight, like laughter. Empty your pockets of stones, that light-hearted you may go (for you must go), with the stitch of the world, into the stitch of the world.

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