Sunday, August 17, 2003

New disc exposes band's varied roots

CD review

Virgin/Back Porch; $18.98
3 1/2 stars

Ohio is a state of mind for Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, a place full of heartbreak and loss, of majestic Hammond organs, cheesy electronic keyboards, crying steel guitars and over it all, a singer with the voice of a disheveled angel.

Ohio may not be the best Over the Rhine album (there's some filler among the 21 songs on two CDs), but it is the most real.

The band's 10th album shows OTR's varied roots, with the Beatlesque opener, "B.P.D."

But even as the tune percolates with pop touches, the lyrics are darker than the music - "You're makin' a mess, somethin' you can't hide. A slow suicide, just one bite at a time."

    Go to Click on the MP3 link next to the song titles to hear "Show Me," "Suitcase" and "Nobody Number One." You can also buy the CD there.
That theme of wounded love is at the bruised heart of most of these songs. "What I'll Remember Most" again touches on betrayal, "The biggest lies are the little ones. When the look in your eyes is the distant one."

Then in a rare respite from heartbreak, it's time to rock, with "Show Me," a return to the straight-ahead sound of early OTR, complete with Fab Four-style "La-la" backup vocals and namechecks of the Rolling Stones and Elvis.

Gospel singer Dorothy Moore gets mentioned in the woozy country ballad "Jesus in New Orleans," as Detweiler's honky tonk piano propels Bergquist's mix of vodka and religion.

There's a touch of Lucinda Williams in Bergquist's delivery, but there's even more Lucinda in "Anything at All," another country-flavored song of lost love that Bergquist says was inspired by Cincinnati singer Katie Laur.

The title song is a stark piano-and-vocal ballad. Bergquist accompanies herself, singing about strip mines, farms and more broken dreams.

"Lifelong Fling" is a sensual R&B-tinged ballad in which Bergquist makes the most of the lines, "With roiling joy, lazy as sin, lyin' up in heaven with my special friend."

"Changes Come" closes Disc 1 exploring spirituality with no easy answers - "There is all this untouched beauty, the light, the dark, both running through me. Is there still redemption for anyone?"

That theme continues in the opener of the second CD in the chorus of "Long Lost Brother": "I wanna do better. I wanna try harder. I wanna believe down to the letter."

Then it's time for "She," Bergquist's most powerful song of heartbreak, about a woman who can't let go of an abusive lover. "What she ought to do is put a gun to your head for all the things you said and did.

"But what she will not do is let you go before you're gone. It's everything that's ever been wrong, but it's all she's ever known."

This is Bergquist's best singing on the disc, a starkly powerful performance that mixes anger, pain and resignation. There's more good stuff on Disc 2, but nothing comes close to this song.

There's the beatnik hip-hop of "Nobody Number One," the '70s retro touches of "Cruel and Pretty," in which she slyly makes the most of the line "Meet me in the backstreets of heaven."

On "When You Say Love" Bergquist channels Chrissie Hynde as Detweiler leads the band, which includes drummer Will Sayles and steel guitarist Tony Paoletta, in some cheesy, new-wave, Blondie-style backup.

"Fool" is a lush ballad of more love gone bad. "Hometown Boy" is a straight-forward love song, about escaping small towns gone to seed with her tender reading of the words "my hometown boy."

Ohio ends with a hidden track, OTR's most straightforward religious song to date, the Southern gospel of "Idea #21 (Not Too Late)," inspired in part by a trip to Al Green's Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis.

It's a sweetly uplifting end to this masterful collection of heartbreaking songs.

Larry Nager

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