Over the Rhine: The Trumpet Child

I’ve posted my review of Over the Rhine’s new album on The Corner Table, but for reference’s sake, here it is, also.

A year before the album was released, Karin Bergquist quipped in a concert that they weren’t “working through any heavy crap” in the writing and producing of the album. However, the sheen and musical depth of The Trumpet Child belies the deeper undertones of the album. Bergquist and her husband may have found peace after sorting through the complications of their marriage in their previous album, Drunkard’s Prayer, but there is yet more ground to cover.

Even from the very beginning, Over the Rhine displays their always overly earnest attitude with the opening lines “I don’t want to waste your time with music you don’t need.” Clearly, for an album that is full of lighter material the band still believes they have something important to say. So, the album begins and the opening track introduces the listener to the richest instrumentation of any Over the Rhine album yet made. Trumpets, trombones, clarinets, and strings give “I Don’t Wanna Waste Your Time” a rag-time light-hearted sound accompanying the important thesis for the album.

The light-hearted fun continues with a bossa nova jaunt in the song “Trouble.” The bouncy fun of the lyrics is contrasted with wonderful swooping strings in the chorus. By the time the next song, “I’m On A Roll” begins, the listener is realizing that for the first time in a long time, listening to Over the Rhine is again fun. This gives Bergquist and Detweiler to perfect opportunity to add gravity to the album. “Nothing Is Innocent” and “The Trumpet Child” anchor the album down with a little bit of whimsy, but a nonetheless serious tone. “Nothing Is Innocent” warns us first to wake up from prevailing apathy, whether it be the government, the environment, or our friendships. In the words of Linford Detweiler, “The Trumpet Child” addresses the question “What would be on God’s iPod” as it name checks jazz and music greats of the past as they bring in the final trumpet sounds of the end times.

Bergquist and Detweiler have long plumbed the depths of their marriage for writing material and a sizable chunk of the album in the middle continues to explore experiencing romance and sexuality within the context of marriage, a subject sorely lacking in current music, where seemingly anonymous one-night stands are far more popular on the radio. The songs speak longingly of finding new ways to express love to one another or just forgetting the world for the day and staying in bed all day long.

Detweiler delivers his first spoken word piece since the concert favorite “Jack’s Valentine” on Good Dog, Bad Dog with a tribute to Tom Waits in “Don’t Wait for Tom.” The song has delightful turns of rhymes with unusual phrasing and vocabulary. The end of the album once again returns to the whimsy of the rest of the album with the political “If A Song Could Be President.” The song name-checks some of folk-music’s greats and muses how things would be different if artists were in charge of our government.

The themes of politics, romance, and religion are all touchy subjects and Over the Rhine has always enjoyed dabbling in all three. The lush instrumentation keeps the topics which normally could be divisive and argumentative from weighing the album down too much. A listener may not agree with everything they say (or maybe the listener will), but their poetry and grace makes their points too artistic to ignore. Of course, there is Karin’s sultry voice, which at different times recalls the past greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee all the way to present artists like Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow. With the Trumpet Child, Over the Rhine reminds us again that they have something important to say and they are going to find the most artistic way possible to say it.

Mini-CD Reviews

Now that Cornerstone is two months in the rear-view mirror, I thought I would review some of the CD’s that I picked up between now and then:

Tifah – Safe and Sound
Lush sounding CD led mostly by Latifah Al-Attas on vocals and piano with songs mostly centering around the theme of love. Her voice is unique and easy to recognize, reminding me of The October Project or Paula Cole. The strength of the album is that songs are carried along by some great instrumentation featuring guitars, drums, and violin. The strong instrumentation reminds me very much of Over the Rhine, another band that exudes a quiet intensity. The band isn’t afraid to rock a little bit in my favorite track, “Enough”, and “This is Love” is a fantastic closing track. This band was a really pleasant surprise for me at Cornerstone. I hadn’t planned on seeing them but they were playing before another band I wanted to see on the New Band Stage. I’m glad I discovered them.

Jonezetta – Popularity
A lot of the songs on this CD aren’t too “new” to me, because I had already seen this band last year at Cornerstone and also opening for Mute Math last year. I had their four-song sampler and the songs are on this CD, too. Popularity has a little bit better production and more keyboards than the demos I heard. This is a fun Tooth N’ Nail band that merges a little bit of the 80’s with modern music similar to The Killers or Franz Ferdinand. I think most of my favorite tracks are still the ones I already knew like “Welcome Home” and “Communicate”, but “Get Ready (Hot Machette)” is pretty fun, too.

Future of Forestry – Twilight
I bought this CD on the strength of the opening track “Open Wide” which is an amazing track. A relatively big-name producer (Ken Andrews) adds a great sound to the songs. The band reminds me a little bit of bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol and the anthemic songs make me think of U2, of course. This one has really done well over repeated listenings. It appears that the band is about to undergo some lineup changes and I’m hoping the band sticks around for some a while and matures their sound.

Ruth – Secondhand Dreaming
This CD is exactly what comes to my mind when I think of a summer CD. It’s the kind of CD you want to put in your car and roll down the windows and take a drive. The immediate comparison that I hear is Third Eye Blind, but I have to confess that I like this a whole lot more than Third Eye Blind. I love the songs like “Here to New York” and “Secondhand Dreaming” that just beg you to sing along with them.

Paper Route – self-titled
This is a quirky little EP that I picked up that features a great variety of instrumentation. It’s got a lot of electronic percussion (and band name) that reminds me of The Postal Service, but it’s not totally derivative. Nice harmonies and intricate melodies.