Back porch roots-folk 

Over the Rhine drops new discs

From a songwriting standpoint, Over the Rhine’s husband-and-wife team of vocalist/guitarist Karin Bergquist and pianist, guitarist and lyrical sleuth Linford Detweiler are one of the finest contemporary Midwestern-roots songwriting duos. The Trumpet Child (Great Speckled Dog, 2007) continues the long list of OtR’s signature song collections, so hearty and fluid you could get drunk on them.

“We don’t write everything together, but we know that there’s gonna be a pretty tough critic waiting there for the first listen,” Detweiler says.

Though artistic editors by nature, the couple isn’t always working or deep in thought. Rather, their sass and sway can be heard throughout their new full-length disc.

“I think we’re pretty lighthearted at the end of the day, although we ask big questions with our music. … We’re really putting something on the line personally,” Detweiler says. “We’re trying to be vulnerable and honest with our listeners. The Trumpet Child was really our attempt, believe it or not, to throw a musical party, and we hope the feel of the record did feel like a party unfolding [with] friends gathered around. … I think there’s a combination of, like, really wanting to laugh and yet wanting to go deep.”

After more than 15 years of releasing quality, grass-roots albums like Good Dog Bad Dog, Films for Radio, Ohio, Drunkard’s Prayer and others, it’s evident this Cincinnati, Ohio-formed musical group isn’t just a band “on a roll,” attempting to “go deep.” Ragtime, jazz, blues and folk — even tints of gospel — are all here; it’s “just a big messy mix of American music,” according to Detweiler.

OtR, who have toured with Bob Dylan and other greats, are blessed with the same songwriting gift as their once headliner. They sell out shows, and it’s no wonder. Their fans aren’t humble, either. The loyal ones follow them from show to show and to special music workshops.

“In the past two years, we’ve done a week-long workshop in Santa Fe [New Mexico] with a wide array of songwriters, some very established, some just starting out,” Detweiler says. “It’s been really fascinating and scary, and, ultimately, rewarding for Karin and I to show up in a room full of 15 songwriters and talk about what we’re drawn to as songwriters.”

But after hitting Bloomington this fall, the couple is off to other cities on their current tour supporting new songs from The Trumpet Child, like “If a Song Could Be President,” which stands out for its bare-bones honesty.

“One thing that we wanted to do on this record, which Van Morrison was good at doing, is we wanted to actually name some of our musical heroes in the songs, [to] speak their name in the context of a song,” Detweiler says. “We wanted to actually see how it felt to say Satchmo in a song or John Prine or Emmylou [Harris], or Thelonius [Monk], you know?”

“If a Song Could Be President” celebrates American music, which is what OtR does best.

“America is a place of great contradictions. We’re greedy and we’re generous. We’re very optimistic, but we’re superstitious. We believe in the separation of church and state, but we’re very religious,” Detweiler says. “There [are] all these contradictions in the water, but we’re the only country that could’ve given the world Johnny Cash.”

And so, he and Lindquist join the ranks of great American songwriters, inviting people to live life “more fully engaged.”

“Our music has always been sensual and spiritual, and … in more recent years, we have written more protest songs just sort of inviting people to … challenge those in power,” Detweiler says. “I hope that our music, first of all, gives people permission not to live in fear. … I think one way of describing it is maybe we hope, in some small part, you know, our music can take power from people that have too much and give power to those that have too little.”

As OtR’s songs meditate on inner strength, Detweiler will also reflect inward to produce what he hopes will be the first of many poetry books, and more live albums in the OtR series known as Live from Nowhere. “I’m trying to knock together a first book of poems, which is my loose description of any words that didn’t make it into a song,” he says.

Also out within the past year and perfect for newcomers to the folk scene is the album Discount Fireworks: A Collection (Back Porch Records, 2007), handpicked favorites and memorable singles from OtR’s past, including “Give Me Strength,” “The World Can Wait” and “Latter Days.”

If you’re not familiar with the older stuff, pick up their holiday album, Snow Angels, and you’ll fall in love with OtR, if not for the first time, then all over again.

“It was recorded here at the farm,” Detweiler says. “It took us probably close to 10 years to write all of the material on Snow Angels. We really wanted to try to set the bar high. I was thinking of songs like Joni Mitchell’s ‘River,’ a beautiful Christmas song she wrote … and some of Vince Giraldi’s fantastic music on A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

OtR has released four CDs in the last 12 months, including Snow Angels, Live from Nowhere: Volume Two, Discount Fireworks and their newest, The Trumpet Child, which they are currently on tour supporting.

“Karin says our reward for touring is coming home,” Detweiler says. “It’s one of the few remaining, truly communal enterprises in America — people getting together for music. … And performing is just one of those sort of mysterious, spiritual, nurturing, exhausting, addictive things that we humans love to do. It’s definitely in our blood.

WHAT: Over the Rhine

WHEN: Friday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m., $18/$20, all-ages

WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington

WEB: www.overtherhine.com

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