Over The Rhine - Ohio
The saddest songs are the happiest / The hardest truths are the easiest / Put us bothe to the test / And see if you still need me
After having made themselves briefly noticed to the mainstream with their previous offering, Films for the Radio, which saw them abandon their stripped down approach for some beatboxes and even an exclusive Dido song, Over The Rhine are returning to their roots with a double album. Believe it or not, this is their tenth release and possibly their best so far.
Reviving the great double albums releases of the 70s, this is probably their All Things Must Pass - the songs are delicate and introspective and, despite a few weaker songs, the quality is so high it could have worked easily as a two seperate albums. The first disc is quite basic sounding with piano, guitar, some occasional pedal steel and drums, richly but tastefully produced; the second gradually becomes more experimental and upbeat, revealing some of the more lyrically playful songs and complex rythms, ending with a song backed by a Gospel choir.
Though they can pull off a rock-out number with little difficulty, they are much better at the downbeat, slow and langorous songs that would have any MTV producer tearing their hair out. They're definately what would be considered to be 'adult' music, music that requires a certain amount of patience and work to get the most out of it. Though Over The Rhine stray across various genres, they probably fit best into the heteroclite genre of alt.country with a delicate blend of folk, acoustic rock and country.
But what makes Over The Rhine so distinctive is undubitably Karin Bergquist's voice - powerful but not overbearing, pure but never generic, she seems to be the natural heir to Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant and Patti Smith. Though the lyrics are, as usual, far deeper than most bands even the blander lyrics on Ms. Bergquist lips take a new urgency and world-shattering truth. With themes of marital abuse (What she ought to do / Is put a gun to your head / For all the things you said and did), transcendent yearnings, death and love (of the troubled variety, if possible), Over The Rhine demonstrate that the spirit of American Gothic is alive and well. Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner would be proud with the wild-eyed, broken characters that inhabit the songs and seem to take on a life of their own.
OtR offer an insight and maturity that some may find overwhelming but for those looking for something fresh or different, this is where the road begins.
Ohio can be bought from Over The Rhine's site (where you can also download mp3s) and may get a limited release in the UK sometime this year.