Over the Rhine released their first full-length record in 1991. They’ve since shared the stage with Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco, My Morning Jacket and many others.
Their latest album, The Long Surrender, features production from Grammy winner Joe Henry and a duet with Americana legend Lucinda Williams.
Now 20 years later, Malone alumni Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler have developed a strong following and consistent critical praise. They return to their old stomping grounds this Friday for “An Evening with Over the Rhine.”
Linford took time to share some of his favorite Over the Rhine songs and insights into their importance and meaning to him.
“All My Favorite People” – The Long Surrender
Detweiler: “One my favorite songs from our new record. Some songs when you’re writing them, it feels like there’s something that’s trying to be revealed. Sometimes you have to wait for that to be fully realized. And there’s some [songs] I need to hear to be reminded of what I believe is true.
[pullquote] The truth is we’re all broken, and it’s all sacred.”[/pullquote]
“The song took four or five years to write. It just reminds me that I don’t want to divide the world into the broken and the unbroken; I don’t want to divide the world into the sacred and secular. The truth is we’re all broken, and it’s all sacred.”
Chorus lyric: “All my favorite people are broken/ Believe me my heart should know/ Some prayers are better left unspoken/ I just want to hold you and let the rest go.”
“Only God Can Save Us Now” – The Long Surrender
Detweiler: “Another song…is one that Karin wrote. Karin’s mother suffered a devastating stroke ten years ago and has been receiving full-time care in a nursing home. We’ve described the world of the nursing home as a head-on collision of comedy and tragedy.
“We’ve gotten to know quite a few characters in the nursing home. Karin refers to a lot of these people as ‘stories that will never be fully told.’ She wanted to capture some of these characters in a song. I think she did that beautifully.
“There was a woman named Geneva in the nursing home that had little bird-like glasses and always had something interesting to say. One day we asked Geneva how she was doing and she looked up at us and replied, ‘Only God can save us now.’ [laughs] That became the point of departure for that song.”
“The Laugh of Recognition” – The Long Surrender
Detweiler: “Another one that Karin wrote. That song came quite quickly to her one winter day when she was calling the dogs in out of the snow and yelling, “Come on, boys.” She realized that was the first line of a new song that needed to be written. It’s a song about starting over gracefully.
“We have friends that have lost everything in this latest economic downturn. A lot of us go through difficult things and find ourselves starting new chapters. To me, it’s a timely song that a lot of friends can relate to right now.
“Also, the title of the song speaks to a phenomenon that I’m curious about. Sometimes when people are reading from memoirs and telling stories about their lives, they can be talking about the most heartbreaking thing, and we in the audience find ourselves laughing at the absurdity of the situation.
“Somebody said, ‘We aren’t laughing at the person; it’s the laugh of recognition—when we recognize that we are all human, all connected, all struggling with a lot of the same things and celebrating a lot of the same small victories.'”
“Latter Days” – Good Dog, Bad Dog
Detweiler: “Another very special song for me. I’ve heard songwriters talk about the fact that a few times in their life songs land so quickly that it almost feels like you’re writing down something that’s always existed. I wrote [this song] in about seven or eight minutes after we arrived back home from a long tour in 1995.
“I sat down at my upright piano in my third-story bedroom apartment and that song landed in front of me. It’s a song that a lot of people have connected with. It’s kind of a simple song that has a lot of sadness and joy condensed into five minutes.
“That’s a song that’s become one of our favorites.”
“Ohio” – Ohio
Detweiler: “Another song that I would reference is a song that Karin wrote, which is a song that she normally does by herself at the piano. It sort of reflects back on her childhood growing in the small town of Barnsville, Ohio in the years before we met.
“Karin and I met at Malone. We both grew up or spent parts of childhood in small Ohio coal mining towns down near Wheeling, W.Va., So, Karin and I had some of those same childhood memories. We were connected by some of the same imagery. In fact, both of us could often see this huge piece of mining equipment called ‘Big Muskie’ which was the world’s largest dragline earth-mover.
“We could both see this thing up in the hills at night that was six stories tall and longer than a football field. That song was about some of those early memories growing up in Ohio.”
“Born” – Drunkard’s Prayer
Detweiler: “Drunkard’s Prayer was a record we made mostly in our living room. It was a very personal record for us as we reflected on our marriage and what makes a marriage survive and thrive.
“It has some significant reminders in it that Karin and I return to, and I think that a lot of people have connected with.”
A chorus lyric: “I was born to laugh/ I learned to laugh through my tears/ I was born to love/ I’m gonna learn to love without fear”
“Mary’s Waltz” – The Darkest Night of the Year and “Snow Angel” – Snow Angels
Detweiler: “Karin and I have made two Christmas records now. One is called ‘The Darkest Night of the Year’ and the second is called ‘Snow Angels.’
“We became interested, early in our songwriting career, in trying to write Christmas songs. There’s a lot of them out there and a lot them are sort of ‘jingly’ and a little ‘syrupy.’ We felt like there was more dimensions to be uncovered in the Christmas season. It can be a difficult time for a lot of people.
“I think sometimes we have expectations of an ideal. The advertising world bombards us with all these happy, sentimental images. It’s not all fun and games for everybody. We tried to reflect some of the reality of being human in our Christmas records.”
Linford concluded with a reflection on the whole of the band’s career:
“Some songs you write continue to resonate. Some are more connected to a particular time and place and you put them away after a while. I think songs are important mile markers for me. Every record sort of reflects a unique chapter in our lives.
“I’m glad we’ve made these records. They fit together in a kind of musical memoir.”