Over the Rhine — the band name for the musical collaboration of husband-and-wife duo Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist — has always exhibited a lyrical concern with place and rootedness, and specifically with Ohio, where both were born and have by choice remained. That concern begins with the band’s name, taken from a neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati where the two were living when they formed the band, and it has frequently shown up in Over the Rhine’s music, including a double album released in 2003 that carries the state’s name as its title.
Now, 10 years later, the pair has released another double album, “Meet Me at the Edge of the World,” that adds a new chapter to their musical reflection of those abiding concerns.
Speaking by conference call on a day off during their current full-band tour, Detweiler elaborates on the record’s genesis. “We found an old hideaway farm with a pre-Civil War brick house about an hour outside the city,” he says. “That’s been our home for the last eight years. After Karin and I had toured pretty heavily for several years, we started dreaming about somewhere where we could disappear when we got off the road, and take a deep breath, and regroup and rejuvenate.”
Bergquist takes up the story: “Linford and I both have this deep connection with this part of Ohio. Our life is fairly fast-paced when we’re on the road; it’s frantic and very urban. We also spent many years in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, living a very urban existence, which we loved. But we started craving balance at some point, and for us, establishing that balance meant getting out of the city when we came home from touring, and finding a piece of earth where we could recover.”
Before long, their new surroundings began to have an effect on their songwriting, although it took awhile for that to come to light. Detweiler says that they first noticed it when they were making their last album, 2011’s “The Long Surrender.” The pair found that they had some songs left over that didn't really fit that project. “We got to looking at them, and realized that they were pretty directly connected to this most recent chapter in our lives.”
That came as no surprise to Bergquist: “because we’re both writers, we can’t help but pay attention to our surroundings, so we both started absorbing this land that we found.” And because both feel such a deep connection to Ohio, “the last eight years that we’ve spent on the farm couldn’t help but influence our writing. I think that's how the record got made.” It wasn't planned, she says; it just happened.
The influence of that “unpaved piece of earth” shows up in a multiplicity of ways, from how the two found it to what they’ve named it to what they’ve experienced there. A time of day when the light began to change in the evening became “Favorite Time of Light” — “it feels like something sacred is happening,” says Detweiler. They came to call their place “Nowhere Farm” — “or ‘Now Here Farm,’ ” he observes — and he plays with that idea in “Baby If This Is Nowhere.” The song “Called Home” is “a fairly specific travelogue of how we found the place.”
There are also larger thematic threads running through the record that owe their origin to Nowhere Farm, particularly one that shows up in the recurring notion of “leaving the edges wild.” Detweiler explains that it came out of a visit his father made after the couple had purchased the farm. “He was a bit of a birdwatcher, and he said he was hearing birds on our place that he hadn’t heard since he was a boy, growing up on his family farm in the ’30s.” That led him to offer a bit of advice: “He encouraged us, as we fixed up the place, to ‘leave the edges wild’ and let the songbirds have a few untamed hidden places for their wild music. That became an important metaphor for us in terms of our writing and the way we want to live our lives. I’m still not completely sure what it means, but it really resonated. I think it’s some kind of a call to living a good life.”
Over its two-decade-plus existence, Over the Rhine has developed a remarkable ability to take various strands of American music — folk, blues, pop, Americana — and weave them into something singular. “Meet Me at the Edge of the World” brings a few new warps to that weave, according to Detweiler. Most notably, he and his wife sing together much more on this record than they ever have in the past. “I’ve always had a little bit of a hang-up about my voice and singing, and Karin’s been gently encouraging me for two decades to chime in more,” he says with a chuckle. “It feels to me like we’ve started a new band, now that we’re singing together much more.”
As for why “Meet Me . . .” is presented — and artfully so, especially in its CD version — as a double album, even though its material would have fit comfortably on a single disc, Detweiler offers that he “likes shorter records, the idea of being able to divide all of these songs into two chapters. It’s more palatable.” He adds that the record just seemed to reveal itself that way, and he’s not sure why.
His wife jokingly suggests “the real reason”: “We made a double album so we didn’t have to fight over whose songs got on the record.”Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.