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A couple of weeks ago, flush with the warm reception given to my first real “Lyricist as Poet” column at Litdotorg last month and giddy with the purchase of a new used car (I have a low threshold of giddy,) I decided to treat myself to a new CD. It was, of course, strictly for the purpose of finding column material. I knew that one particular band of my listening acquaintance was a good prospect for poetic lyrics.

After a quick commando raid on my local record store, I popped the disc into the dashboard crevice. A slow, almost-but-not-quite mournful woodwind ensemble and piano riff soon gave way to a silky, languid female voice that immediately laid all the cards on the table:

I don’t want to waste your time with music you don’t need.
Why should I autograph the book that you won’t even read?
I got a different scar for every song and blood left still to bleed,
But I don’t want to waste your time with music you don’t need.

Wow! I’d never had an artist directly address me in such a frank, straightforward manner about the nature of the dialogue between artist and audience! I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised though: this was, after all, the most recent studio offering from the long-time Cincinnati-based musical duo Over the Rhine.

Over the Rhine released their first album, Till We Have Faces, in 1991. There has been a rotating cast of characters/backing musicians around the periphery over the years, but the core of the band has always been now-husband-and-wife Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. Both write songs, but Karin is the voice of OtR. Their not-inconsiderable discography (17 albums, including live recordings and compilations) is shelved under Rock at my local record store, probably by default, but OtR’s music, while originally rock-based, defies categorization. From time to time, they have teetered on the brink of breaking out into mainstream music biz recognition, achieving such honors as touring with (and performing as honorary members of) the better-known Canadian band Cowboy Junkies. They’ve even earned enough “indie” cred to be given the “O” spot in Paste magazine’s An Indie Rock Alphabet Book.

I discovered OtR via their wonderful 1996 album Good Dog, Bad Dog and in fact reviewed it here on the virtual pages of Litdotorg under the moniker of my own real-life husband-and-wife musical duo, Spiny Norman. (Long story – I’ll tell you about it some other day.) GDBD remains my favorite OtR album so far, but that could eventually change now that I’ve been confronted by the aforementioned dashboard CD, 2007’s The Trumpet Child.

If one could take issue with any aspect of OtR’s music, it might be that it tends to be a bit on the serious side. Happily, I discovered that The Trumpet Child is as relaxed and playful as I’ve ever heard them. It’s like seeing a dear friend who’s been through many hard times finally kick back and crack a smile – you don’t really mind it if they’re MOSTLY serious, but it sure does your heart good to see them finally having fun. Here it takes multiple forms: a flirtatious and somewhat tongue-in-cheek tango called “Trouble”:

If you’ve come to make some trouble, better make it good.
Your sexy cocktail hour stubble is doing what it should…

…then a confident (dare I say even cocky?) declaration:

Black flamenco shoes, dahlias in my hair,
Garters on my stockings – the sidewalk bends to stare.
I’m on a roll!

About as serious as OtR gets this time around is the sober reminder that “Nothing is Innocent:”

We’d wake the dead with voices in our head.
We’ve gotten used to ignoring the truth.
We close our eyes and breathe and eat the lies
That tell us we’re so much better than you…

As I mentioned in my review of Good Dog Bad Dog, Karin and Linford are both obviously devout Christians. While their religious beliefs are not on display in every song, their faith is frequently apparent in certain numbers with a greater or lesser degree of subtlety. To my agnostic ears, the expression of their spirituality is not only palatable but downright enjoyable even to those who may not share their particular beliefs. (I’d be very curious to hear the reactions of both currently practicing Christians and of those reared in other traditions or in no religion at all to test my theory.) On The Trumpet Child, this expression takes place on the title track – a fascinating image of the returning Christ as a jazz trumpet player:

The trumpet child will riff on love – Thelonious notes from up above.
He’ll improvise a kingdom come accompanied by a different drum…

Based on both the subject matter and the meter, this song struck me as the mellow jazz sequel to the decidedly more staccato “This Little Babe” from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols:

This little babe so few days old is come to rifle Satan’s fold.
All Hell doth at his presence quake, though he himself for cold do shake…

I’m sure any similarity is just a coincidence…

There is one other passing reference to religion in the midst of the self-deprecating humor of “Who’m I Kiddin’ But Me”:

You smell like sweet magnolias and Pentecostal residue.
I’d like to get to know ya and shake the holy fire right out of you,
But oh, who’m I kiddin’ but me?

After that spiritual interlude, it’s back to lighthearted love songs “Entertaining Thoughts” and – a particular favorite of mine – the invitation “Let’s Spend the Day in Bed,” not for purposes of adolescent animal passion nor for some John-and-Yoko-style political statement/photo opportunity but simply as a way to escape from the big bad world together for a little while:

We’ll read Shel Silverstein “Where the Sidewalk Ends,”
Smile about old friends, try to comprehend
One single day – no work and only play…

As on the original issue of Good Dog Bad Dog, Linford makes one vocal appearance on The Trumpet Child – to talk his way (trust me – it doesn’t rise to the level of rapping!) through homage to another poet of the popular music world, Tom Waits:

He’s got the hands of a blind piano player.
He’s got a feel for the dark like a soothsayer.
He takes a little bow and tips his fedora,
Shouts like he’s gonna save Sodom and Gomorrah…

Finally, Over the Rhine leaves us with one of the most inspiring (slightly country-tinged) thoughts I could imagine for these politically tumultuous time: what would it be like “If A Song Could Be President”?

We’d make Neil Young a Senator
Even though he came from Canada.
Emmylou would be Ambassador –
World leaders would listen to her…

Best idea I’ve heard in years!

So is this “music you don’t need?” Is there any music we really do need? Conversely, is there any music someone somewhere doesn’t need? The same could be said, of course, about poetry or any other form of literature, the visual arts, or any other creative endeavor that doesn’t directly contribute to human beings’ physical survival – you know: the whole “food, clothing & shelter” thing. We may not literally need to either create or “consume” such works to stay alive, but the argument could be made (so I’ll make it!) that such products of the human imagination feed us spiritually – some more richly than others - and raise us up to a plane “a little lower than the angels” (as suggested by an earlier OtR lyric – Good Dog Bad Dog’s “All I Need is Everything” – speaking of needs!)

When artists like Over the Rhine combine thoughtful, intelligent words with catchy tunes, as they do throughout The Trumpet Child, they feed you from head to toe – poetry to get your mind thinkin’ and music to set your toe tappin’ at the same time. I can assure you that you won’t “waste your time” if you spend it listening to the best of Over the Rhine.

Oh, yes: Be sure to check out their website. Linford’s periodic letters alone are worth the price of admission (actually, they’re worth much more since, um, there IS no price of admission…) The inspired and ambitious may even note that OtR is hosting a week-long songwriting workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in August. Apparently, they also work and play well with others and – thank goodness – share their “toys.”

I leave you this time with a delightful video clip of another number from this album, “Desperate for Love.” The video is notable for the fun animation – a nice change of pace from the standard concert or studio performance video. The song is notable for this delightful non sequitur:

Red wine on my lips,
Got this black silk slip on my hips.
The kitchen faucet just drips and drips…

Bon appetit!






All songs from The Trumpet Child written by Karin Bergquist and/or Linford Detweiler. © 2007 Over the Rhine. Published by Scampering Songs Publishing (ASCAP.)

------
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx



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Comments

The following comments are for "The Lyricist as Poet: Over the Rhine's "The Trumpet Child""
by LinnieRed

Linnie's COLUMN rocks!
You just keep getting better and more interesting all the time, LinnieRed;-) This was fascinating, excellent reading.

Tashi Delek,
Blessing;-)

Karma

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: July 2, 2009 )

LOVE video, LINNIERED!
PS--WOW! I can feel that in my bones running through my soul...makes me sway to the rhythm, oh my oh my....awesome is an understate! Thanks for this video;-)

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: July 3, 2009 )

WOoooOhhh...keep coming back here for more...
LinnieRed--holy cow that video along with your most excellent thought provoking written thoughts, this is irresistible, now I am singing it running around the house like I am in a 30's movie or a Broadway play hehehe;-)

Blessings,
Karma

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: July 3, 2009 )

THANK YOU;-) SOooo Cooool....
Oh that LINK and their site ROCKS & thier RECORD PLAYER, too cool, really TOOOO COOOL---I am in love with their music!

"If a song could be president" is a trip! The others just melt into me like this one you've got posted about,"Desperate for Love"-----Thanks so much LinnieRed for exposing me to this, I love it, just humming, singing and feeling it all in joy and gratitude;-)

Blessings,
Karma

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: July 3, 2009 )

You ain't heard nothin' yet!
Thanx! So glad you like it! You really should go to their website - they have a "record player" with all (or just about all) the songs on it! In fact, here's the link:

[url]http://www.overtherhine.com/recordplayer/recordplayer.html[/url)

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: July 3, 2009 )

(Oops! Helps to close tags properly!)
Take two:
http://www.overtherhine.com/recordplayer/recordplayer.html

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: July 3, 2009 )

Don't Wait For Tom...LINK DOOZZEEE...
Linda,
That link you left to their record player brought me to my second favorite: "Don't Wait For Tom"--kick ass music, makes do my Fossie jazz hands dance, hehehehee! Yeeehaaa!

Karma

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: July 4, 2009 )

Trumpet Child
Nice writing, now that I see it fully formatted. Stick that thing in the dashboard confessional tonight.

( Posted by: TomTerrific [Member] On: July 8, 2009 )

Linnie's MAJESTIC columns, a wealth of information and more...
I love your newest work in the monthly newsletter found at the link to our right here titled: MAJESTIC, monthly newsletter. Loved it as much as I loved this one that was posted here....

OK---folks, go to right hand column, look for MAJESTIC MONTHLY NEWLETTER and read LinnieRed's "The Lyricist as Poet", and the other columnists works.

Great reading to say the least;-)

Thank you Linda, your knowledge of music and your writing talents rock!

You must be in the printed magazine of "Lit.Org The Literary Magazine"---something you can put on your coffee table and say, "hey, I am a columnist in that quarterly magazine...and how cool would it be to walk into a bookstore or coffee house and see your column in print, eh? Well, I am excited about it.

Tashi delek, blessings, and all that jazz...

(see my Fosse jazz hands shaking! Oh yeah;-)

Karma

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: August 7, 2009 )

I have another thought . . .
. . . and it seems I'm always having thoughts!

What if I used the WordPress-based newsletter in the same manner I used the HTML emailed newsletter? We put a paragraph or two of the article on the newsletter itself, and then provided a direct, HTML link back to the article on litdotorg's main pages?

We would still have a coherent newsletter. It would still be archived permanently. And, I wouldn't have to fight Russian SPAM all the time.

OR

We could put the complete article in both places, but at the end of each article, have a comment button that takes the reader right back here, and to a completely archived version of the piece.

Again -- newsletter is archived, and people get to comment in the forum to which they are already accustomed.

I'm just thinking out loud. How do you guys feel about your newsletter at litdotorg in its current format?

Ochani

( Posted by: OchaniLele [Member] On: August 8, 2009 )

IDEA ZING POW!!!
I like the suggestion in the SECOND part of your ideas:

We could put the complete article in both places, but at the end of each article, have a comment button that takes the reader right back here, and to a completely archived version of the piece.

Again -- newsletter is archived, and people get to comment in the forum to which they are already accustomed.

Karma;-)

( Posted by: TheRealKarmaTseringLhamo [Member] On: August 8, 2009 )

I think . . .
. . . you're right. I like that idea. I wonder if the columnists will mind cutting and pasting an extra time? It sounds easy to do, but everyone is so busy it's dizzying.

Anyone else think it's a good idea?

Ochani

( Posted by: OchaniLele [Member] On: August 8, 2009 )

PS
The Russian SPAM is REALLY getting on my nerves! I validate all the comments so they don't get through, but, it's a lot! What's up with Russia these days?

Ochani

( Posted by: OchaniLele [Member] On: August 8, 2009 )





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