Letters

November 1, 2012

OVER THE RHINE
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212

November 1, 2012

Dear extended musical family,

Might want to pour a glass of something good and settle in. You know me.

Karin and I have been writing songs together for over 20 years now and recently celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. You would think that after so long there would not be many “firsts” left to experience. And yet we are finding that is not necessarily so.

In early 2010, for the first time, we approached all of you with the idea of making a record together. Rather than borrowing money from a label, we all placed our bets on the muse, so to speak, and pitched in sight-unseen to hopefully offer the world the gift of something beautiful, textured, real – and with wild edges.

Over 2000 of you responded, and the record we all made was called, The Long Surrender. Karin and I gathered for five days on the West Coast with producer Joe Henry, and a group of world-class musicians. We leaned into the songs and let them reveal themselves with few preconceived notions. It felt like all of you had bestowed a blessing on us in advance, and we hoped everyone who heard the songs would feel that. 

We all wanted to be surprised. We caught and released something together and sure enough, doors started opening. 

We were encouraged when USA Today, The LA Times and NPR’s All Things Considered (to name a few) ran strong reviews or features of The Long Surrender on the day it was released. Many more followed. Apparently our group effort could pack a punch.

We began performing the songs around the country, and for the first time, Karin and I received an invitation to perform in Japan. We arrived shortly after the devastating tsunami, and offered songs like “All My Favorite People” and “Undamned” to people who had no words for the immensity of the tragedy that had breached their shores. Songs feel different in those situations. Suddenly, music feels strangely valuable and vibrates with a currency all its own. Songs can help us take a few steps toward healing. Songs are safe containers for the best and worst that life has to offer. It was an important trip for us. (As we write this, we view the images from the massive storm that recently hit the East Coast of the USA. We all want to do what we can to help.)

For the first time, we got to perform with a full ballet company. Not knowing what to expect, our 6-piece band set up and began playing. We watched the thirty-plus dancers in the Cincinnati Ballet explode, embrace and embody our songs in front of our eyes. We couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing and feeling. And the audiences that poured into the 2700 seat hall for three performances seemed to agree that they hadn’t experienced anything quite like it before either. (We’ll be doing this again in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this fine company.)

For the first time, we got to tour with one of our influences and American songwriting heroes, Lucinda Williams, who also recorded a duet with Karin on The Long Surrender.

And for the first time we had the opportunity to play an outdoor summer concert in our old namesake neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine at the newly renovated Washington Park. It was the first performance in a green space that sprawls in front of Music Hall where our hometown orchestra and opera performs. We had no way of counting, but we were told that approximately 7000 people streamed into the park and put down blankets and listened to an evening of music in what is still widely thought of as the “bad part of town.” 

The life of a traveling musician can be exhausting. Robbie Robertson called it “a goddam impossible way of life.” And like many writers we are sometimes tormented by thoughts that what we have done is worthless, that we have somehow failed. Failed to achieve wider recognition. Failed to live up to our full potential. We are not immune to moments of self-pity. 

On a good day, we silence those voices and get back to work. We lift a glass to the good moments along the way, and we lean forward once again into what we love, come what may. We try to tell the truth and make it rhyme.

Yes. The time has arrived for Over the Rhine to get back to the real work of recording our new songs. And once again we are going to invite you to come along for the ride, to bet on the muse, to be surprised. We are going to believe that there are still “firsts” out there to be found. We are going to continue the idea of together, offering something beautiful, subversive and soulful to the world. And we are going to up the ante this time. 

Why make a record together when we can make two?

We have two projects that we’ve been writing toward for the last few years. The first is tentatively titled “The Farm.” It’s a group of songs that revolve around the last seven years that we’ve spent in the rolling fields of Highland County, Ohio, in an old pre-Civil War farmhouse that we’ve come to think of as home. We’re learning to call things by name out here. And when the time is right, we look forward to gathering you together on the farm and offering these songs to you on the very patch of earth that they grew out of. That, my friends, will certainly be a first.

The second project is a Christmas/Wintertime/New Year’s collection called, “Blood Oranges in the Snow.” It continues what we started with The Darkest Night of the Year and Snow Angels – records that we hope capture some of the reality of a beautiful – but often conflicted and even heartbreaking – time of year. Hopefully, we’ll make winter a little more soulful for those with ears to hear.

We are planning to release these projects in the second half of 2013. 

We are hoping to take these two significant creative steps forward with you. We are hoping to create records that we are all willing to sign our names to. Call it a burgeoning, collaborative, musical legacy.

Or maybe it’s just an acknowledgment of what Karin has been saying for years:

Without you, we’d be homeless.

We’ve come up with donation levels for each project that can fit any budget. We’ve tried to have fun with it, but also make sure you’re getting a good value for your money. But I guess at the end of the day that comes down to the songs. 

Someone said that we need pastors and priests to remind us that one day we are going to die. But we need poets, writers and singers to remind us that we’re not dead yet.

Anybody still up for betting on the muse? We hope you’ll join us.

LET’S MAKE A RECORD. Or two…

Peace like a river, love like an (Ohio) ocean,

Linford and Karin

P.S. Here’s some of what was written about our last attempt at communal art making. Special thanks to all of you who have been asking, When can we do it again? Rave on.

+++

THE LONG SURRENDER

”Twenty years after their recording debut, rural Ohio-based singer/songwriters Linford Detweiler and wife Karin Bergquist and their associates have delivered a set of mature, graceful and sad songs that in a just world will win them wider recognition. Working with producer Joe Henry, they use intimate, soulful arrangements to showcase Bergquist’s achingly beautiful voice.” —USA Today

“There may be no more soothing voice in music than Karin Bergquist’s. She could be interpreting jazz standards, but fortunately she applies that balm to her and husband Linford Detweiler’s beautifully languid originals, which invoke hard times and celebrate the survival of the least fit . . . when a Lucinda Williams duet isn’t even The Long Surrender’s high point, things have gone very right.” —Entertainment Weekly

 “a marvelously evocative effort, one that recalls the torch song epiphanies of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald . . . Sparse, sultry and yet undeniably mesmerizing, The Long Surrender is a clear victory for all concerned.” —Blurt

“the most emotionally raw and musically nuanced [album] of the band’s fine career…Over the Rhine have pieced together a lovely, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting musical mosaic.” —Paste

* * * * (out of four)
“a work as exquisitely beautiful as Van Morrison’s most graceful efforts.” —Los Angeles Times

“Over the Rhine is one of the best husband/wife duos since Richard and Linda Thompson, and The Long Surrender proves it.” —Ink19.com

“Over the Rhine is your introspective village preacher, lonely and open, melancholy and rejoicing, bitter and thankful.” —Christian Science Monitor

“aggressively beautiful, like those ’60s protesters who confronted soldiers with flowers…it becomes useless to resist The Long Surrender.” —Newsday