Ohio's Over the Rhine — the husband-and-wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist — has continued its streak of thoughtful, lush albums with 2007's The Trumpet Child. Released in August (and followed by a Christmas album, Snow Angels, in October), it's a favorite of fans and critics. Listen to the album and you won't have trouble figuring out why.
A good word to describe Over the Rhine's music is savory. The same could apply to singer Bergquist, who deftly wields a sumptuous voice that's often playful and teasing, always dripping with the mood of each song. (My favorite part is her occasional drawl — it gives the songs that extra bit of senses-stirring charm.)
On The Trumpet Child, Bergquist's voice, and the music, take a turn toward Billie Holiday on a jazzy record that's a little bit Southern, a lot loungy, and all American. Lots of bands seem to be having fun; this is one that also cares about good music — enjoying it and making it. Music and lyrics paint rich worlds that name-drop Neil Young and John the Baptist, celebrating basic pleasures like song and spending time with someone you love. The lyrics are smart but not pretentious; on The Trumpet Child, they're poetry with a little sass.
Songs on this album take an upturn from the often somber tone of Drunkard's Prayer, which Over the Rhine released in 2005. If that record reflected the pair's rebuilding of their troubled marriage, The Trumpet Child reveals the couple reveling in the pleasure of each other — and of good music. Listeners who enjoyed the spiritual reflections of previous efforts will find less to chew on here. The influence of spiritual things is still apparent, most notably in the title song, which envisions the coming of a "Trumpet Child" (Jesus Christ) who will "surprise the human race" and change the world. As Detweiler explains on the group's website, “Both Karin and I grew up around a lot of old church music. … A theme that recurred in a lot of the old hymns was the idea that the world would be reborn with the sound of a trumpet. We’ve all heard many of the great American trumpet (and horn) players … and we’ve been wondering about the sound of that trumpet. Is it real? Is it a metaphor? What, exactly, is on God’s iPod?”
Though I am particularly inclined to appreciate "spiritual" musings, and I prefer the slower, darker tunes of Drunkard's Prayer to this newer album. My favorite song on The Trumpet Child is one that doesn't necessarily (or at all) resemble either category: "Don't Wait for Tom," a delicious, folk-trippy turn featuring Detweiler on lead (spoken) vocals. The song, which pays tribute to Tom Waits, is the highlight of an album full of songs that embrace their subjects with celebration and lyrical prowess. I imagine Waits is among those who count themselves fans of The Trumpet Child and Over the Rhine.