As Over the Rhine (married duo Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler) have performed their folk-pop over the past few decades, they’ve refined their ability to express an inner peace outwardly. That sort of existential contentedness comes across in interviews, stage banter, and, probably most important, their various recordings. The songs don’t rely on peace; they cover break-ups and tumult and whatever it is good songwriters capture as they go from life to art to life-in-art. On Love & Revelation, the pair, along with their backing Band of Sweethearts, reveal that while they haven’t settled, they know how to find joy along their travels.
“Betting on the Muse” weds this cool life to effective art almost explicitly. The pair’s use of the title phrase shifts from the hope of aesthetic expression to the recognition of a domestic muse that sparks a fullness. “I’m remembering your kisses / Our lips raw with love / But the fact that you still make me laugh / Is what I’m most proud of,” they sing in unison, proclaiming a transcendence in the subtle. The song would work with no instrumentation except Detweiler’s piano, but the group adds tasteful flourishes to complete the mood.
That group – mostly made up of highly regarded studio musicians like Jay Bellerose (percussion), Greg Leisze (pedal steel, mandolin), and Jennifer Condos (bass) – have started to feel like a permanent lineup, something that hasn’t properly existed for Over the Rhine. The very loosely Americana performances remain controlled and precise without becoming staid, the rare music where “tasteful” isn’t a backhanded compliment but a proper propulsion for mature honesty.
Far from a concept album, the disc still takes a journey of sorts. The opening tracks “Los Lunas” and “Given Road” sink into break-up meditations, the sort of melodies that work for late-night drives alone, as long as you know who’s waiting at the end of the drive. Both songs consider the idea of letting go, a topic echoed in the lyrics of “Betting” and resisted in “Let You Down”. The album starts with heartbreak, but rallies across its middle, finding unexpected strength both internally and in community. By the time we reach “Leavin’ Days,” the pain of separation lingers, but now it stabilizes in the pull of travel, not permanent separation.
The album climaxes in its penultimate cut (the closer offers wordless benediction as we depart), “May God Love You (Like You’ve Never Been Loved)”. Bergquist’s steady delivery embodies a deep knowledge of hurt, and a recognition of time in the “wilderness”. When she sings, “We’re not curable, but we’re treatable / And that’s why I still sing,” she offers a brief manifesto of Over the Rhine’s music. They haven’t solved the puzzles, and they haven’t avoided loss, but they’ve found hope and a song in the midst of it all. “Is it sacrilegious dancing / In the light of all we’ve lost?” she asks, and the answer, whether in lament or in recovered thanksgiving, is simply to dance some more. Over the Rhine know that, and they share their answer as both love and revelation.