I’d only been in Europe for a month when I found myself desperate for a true taste of home. The American music playing in the supermarket was of the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears variety. Sure, it brought back images of high school in the States, but not the lush greens of Oregon, nor the fireflies of Ohio, nor even the cracked sidewalks of Baltimore. So when the package arrived I eagerly tore through the paper and hit play. From the first brass note that touched my ear I knew that The Trumpet Child was exactly what I needed to bring me closer to my home across the deep blue.
I have been listening to Over the Rhine for years but their latest studio release, The Trumpet Child, made me fall in love with the group's music all over again. Although I fully expected that after the thirteenth and fourteenth albums the husband-wife duo Linford Detweiler and Karin Berquist had established a concrete musical style, they again surprised me by their ability to create songs that are at once fresh and familiar; sobering and enchanting.
Highlighting a departure from their usual easy-going guitar and piano style, the opening song “I Don’t Wanna Waste Your Time” begins with a summer-on-the-waterfront sounding trio of sax and brass which sets the stage for an album that is stylistically unexpected and difficult to describe. Through the combination of Linford’s rolling piano, Karin’s seductive voice and a parade of instruments from the common (trumpet, clarinet, cello and tack piano), to the relatively obscure (I had to look up the Swampy Slide, Chamberlin, and Rhodes on Wikipedia), The Trumpet Child showcases a blending of old school jazz, folk, and rustic traditions into a warm comfortable sound all their own.
And then there’s that voice. The intensely powerful voice which Karin tempers with her lazy, almost southern, accent to give the vocals a sense of utter effortlessness. Her musical versatility is evident in her ability to coyly sing “Trouble” then turn around with a savory drawling of “I’m On a Roll,” followed with a chillingly matter-of-fact “Nothing is Innocent Now,” a smirking “Who Am I Kiddin’ But Me?” and closing the album with “If A Song Could Be President” which is reminiscent of Tennessee legends like Emmylou.
Alongside Karin’s unmistakable talent as a singer, Over the Rhine shines with their uncanny ability to write lyrics and tunes that are at once mysterious and resonant. It is clear that there is a story behind each song, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes laughably silly. Yet with lines and tunes that park in your head such as, “walk into the room with that curious grin; ain’t nobody need to know what kinda shape I’m in,” or, “we’d wake the dead with the voices in our head,” or, “they say no dress rehearsal: I’m a very lucky girl,” I myself effortlessly adopting the refrains as my own theme songs.
So there I was, an ocean away, listening to songs that somehow brought back memories of home: of a life that is simple and praised for what it is. While any Over the Rhine album is well worth the expense, The Trumpet Child should be a music library staple both for the long-time fan enjoying the band’s versatility, as well as an excellent introduction to the band for someone interested in thoughtful lyrics, creative composition, and stunning execution.