LIVE: Over the Rhine @ The Egg, 10/18/13

Review by Greg Haymes

With the ever increasing globalization and homogenization of everything from restaurants to pop culture, it’s rare indeed to find American music with a genuine sense of place. But Over the Rhine has it in spades. As keyboardist and co-bandleader Linford Detwiler pointed out in the middle of the band’s concert at The Egg last month, “There’s a lot of Ohio in our new album.” Which is an understatement akin to saying that Bill Gates has some money.

It begins with the name of the band, which is also the name of a historic neighborhood in Cincinnati where Detweiler and vocalist-guitarist Karin Bergquist started the band a quarter century ago. And they never moved. Despite considerable success, they never made the big music industry leap to New York City, Los Angeles or Nashville. Their roots run deep in Ohio, and a few years ago the husband-and-wife duo moved out of the city and into the country in southwestern Ohio to an old nineteenth century farmhouse on the land they call Nowhere Farm. Or “Now Here Farm,” as Bergquist pointed out. And that sense of place resonated throughout their nearly two-hour-long performance, from Ohio’s earth (“Sacred Ground”) to its sky (“Blue Jean Sky”).

While on the surface, the music is mellow, laid-back folk-pop, they also like to “keep the edges wild,” a lyric that popped up twice (“Called Home” and “Against the Grain”) at The Egg. Helping to keep it wild at The Egg was their crack backing band, especially the eccentric, unorthodox but always tasty drummer Jay Bellerose, a stand-out on the captivatingly clattering blues “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body.” He was joined by guitarist-pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood and bassist Jennifer Condos – three of the four members of Ray LaMontagne’s band, the Pariah Dogs. Rounding out the ensemble was Nicholas Radina on cuatro and nylon-string guitar.

They opened and closed the show with a handful of older favorites – the intoxicating “Drunkard’s Prayer” was an early highlight, while the encore of “Cruel and Pretty” lit up the showclosers – but fully two-thirds of the show was devoted to music from their new double-CD, Meet Me at the Edge of the World. While Bergquist has always been the vocal focus of Over the Rhine, Detweiler stepped up to add harmonies on quite a few new songs, and even traded verses with his wife on “All Over Ohio.” It was a welcome addition to their musical arsenal, changing their sound considerably without losing the band’s melodic essence.

North Carolina singer-songwriter Tift Merritt opened the show with a sublime set accompanied by Eric Heywood, pulling double-duty. Like some amazing cross between Emmylou Harris and Carole King, Merritt kicked off her 40-minute set with “Sweet Spot,” and it’s a spot that she never left as she shifted from the chugging “Still Not Home” to the devastating “Feeling of Beauty” to the exquisite, totally unamplified cover of Tom Waits’ “Train Song.” Despite her opening act status, it was no surprise that she earned a standing ovation.

The Laugh of Recognition
Drunkard’s Prayer
Meet Me at the Edge of the World
Called Home
Sacred Ground
Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body
I’d Want You
All Over Ohio
Blue Jean Sky
Against the Grain
Favorite Time of Light
Cuyahoga (instrumental)
Baby If This Is Nowhere
The King Knows How
All My Favorite People
Cruel and Pretty
Wildflower Bouquet

Sweet Spot
Traveling Alone
To Myself
Small Talk Relations
Train Song (Tom Waits)
Still Not Home
Feeling of Beauty

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