Like the parable of the five blind men describing an elephant, assigning a single style to OTR based on limited exposure will result in flawed conclusions. Over the Rhine has gone from self-released independents to minor/major label artists (for IRS and Virgin) and back to indie status.
Through it all, Detweiler and Bergquist, utilizing a shifting and brilliantly talented supporting musical cast, have incorporated atmospheric elements of folk, country, rock and pop into their finished product, filtered through the couple's stunningly intuitive sensibility, varied influences and broad experience.
|Over The Rhine - Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body - New York City, Oct. 2013|
Over the Rhine's extensive catalog - 13 studio, five live and three demo/etc. compilation albums since their 1991 self-released debut, "Till We Have Faces" - is rife with beautifully unclassifiable jewels, and their latest, "Meet Me at the Edge of the World," serves as both prime example and magnum opus.
"To my ear, the project feels pretty cohesive," says Detweiler from the Highland County farmhouse that he and Bergquist have called home for the past nine years.
"Our music has always been a little hard to categorize so maybe it's hard for me to be objective about that. My record collection is what it is, and I'm interested in a lot of different kinds of American music that pop up in our records."
Detweiler and Bergquist's ramshackle farmhouse in rural southern Ohio was one of their primary influences when they began writing the songs that comprise "Meet Me at the Edge of the World."
Although their move from the city proper occurred in 2004, the full impact of their rustic surroundings didn't completely register in their creative consciousness until recently.
"I think it definitely took some time to soak in," says Detweiler. "We moved out here right before 'Drunkard's Prayer' was released, and we had a pretty busy touring season for awhile so we were coming and going a bit. Some seeds were planted that took awhile to take root."
One seed was planted years ago by Detweiler's father, who passed away in 2008. He loved the farm and visited several times, imparting information and wisdom with each successive trip.
"He said he was hearing songbirds he hadn't heard since he was a boy on the family farm in the '30s," Detweiler recalls. "He encouraged us to 'leave the edges wild,' and he helped us name a few of the birds that were calling. We didn't know the names of any of the trees out here, all the stuff that was surrounding us. When my father passed away, something shifted, and he was no longer around to do the naming. We decided to start calling things by name and at that point, we started to have a different relationship with this place, and that's when things started to seep into our songs."
"I don't know why it took awhile. Maybe it just took awhile for us to feel like we were putting down roots," he says.
Another seed sprouted three years ago, when OTR worked on "The Long Surrender" with artist/producer Joe Henry, who also manned the board for "Meet Me at the Edge of the World."
Detweiler and Bergquist realized that some of the songs didn't quite mesh with the feeling that was coming out of the recording session. "We realized there was this growing collection of songs, like Favorite Time of Light and Wildflower Bouquet, that was pretty directly connected (to the farm)," says Detweiler. "We realized we should find a separate place for these songs to live and that became 'Edge of the World.'"
As OTR's Highland County farm morphed from road refuge to actual home, the songs that comprise "Edge of the World" took shape. In some ways, the writing territory that Detweiler and Bergquist were exploring was as wild and untamed as the area that inspired it.
"I don't think we've ever written an album about home before," says Detweiler with a laugh. "It's kind of an exotic feeling."
The couple's home revelations inspired enough material to warrant the possibility of a double album. With Henry onboard for the new project, Detweiler alerted the producer to the number of songs that they would be bringing to the studio, but admitted they weren't necessarily intent on creating a double album.
"We agreed that if we ended up with a dozen tunes we felt good about, we'd call that a win," says Detweiler. "We started recording three days before Easter last spring, and we took Easter Sunday off. Right before our break, we came up for air and realized that we'd recorded 10 tunes, and it really felt like a record, like a body of songs that felt complete."
As the sessions wound down before the holiday, Detweiler issued a gentle challenge to Henry and the crack musicians (guitarist/pedal steeler Eric Heywood, keyboardist Patrick Warren, guitarist Mark Goldenberg, drummer Jay Bellerose and high profile guests Aimee Mann and Van Dyke Parks) he had assembled for the recordings.
"I remember saying, 'Why don't we come back Monday morning and see if we can make a better record than the one we just made?' " says Detweiler. "Everybody seemed up for it so we came back Monday and dove in."
Amazingly, the track order on the two discs that comprise "Meet Me at the Edge of the World" is, for the most part, a chronological documentation of the album's sessions. "Edge of the World" also represents the first time Detweiler and Bergquist have sung together on an album.
"We might have rearranged a couple of the instrumentals, but what you're hearing is a pretty accurate document of how we found our way into the project," says Detweiler. "The first song we recorded was Meet Me at the Edge of the World, the last song was Favorite Time of Light, and the band was like a really easy dancing partner. Karin and I felt really comfortable, and Joe's a really good ally and a brother-in-arms at this point. We played the songs a couple times each and picked one of the takes."
"In terms of mining new territory, the big story is Karin and I have been singing together more, and that's been DNA altering for us. It feels like we're starting a new chapter as a band. I think we'll be singing much more harmony moving forward and trading vocals here and there. That feels, to us, a little revolutionary. Karin's got a pretty big instrument, and I've been content to stay out of the way and let her do her thing."