Over The Rhine: The Trumpet Child (RedEye/Southbound)

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Over the Rhine: Nothing Is Innocent
Over The Rhine: The Trumpet Child (RedEye/Southbound)

When this Cincinnati-based duo came to New Zealand 18 months ago I did an interview with them and noted they were receiving media interest more befitting Really Big Stars: lining up for a chat were the Herald; Kim Hill; the Listener and student radio; and there was an intimate gig before well-placed radio and retail people.

Not that they didn't deserve the attention, because over a series of albums they had carved out a nice slice of territory between alt.country, American folk and light blues.

They also had good, contemporary songs and in Karin Bergquist a singer whose voice could be melded into the many styles they were softly exploring.

This new album adds another and very interesting dimension: here in places they adopt suggestions of European cabaret on some songs, and there are touches of Tom Waits when he was in such a mode also. It opens with an instrumental flourish which evokes that old time American music, but quickly establishes itself with lyrics "I don't want to waste your time with music you don't need . . . I don't want to waste good wine if you won't stick around".

The reference to wine there is interesting -- later we hear of more wine, a black silk slip, garters -- and in many places this album has the feel of a wine-soaked cabaret club in Paris or old New Orleans (the second track Trouble sings of "your sexy cockatil hour stubble").

This despite lyrical concerns which allude to Iraq (Nothing is Innocent), a sense of hope despite the sad state of American politics (the slightly naff If A Song Could Be President), their Christianity (the title track) and a salute to the Tom Waits who used to sing those drunkard's blues about three decades ago (Don't Wait For Tom, which might have better stayed a live favourite).

They aren't averse to a little chiming country-pop (the gently rocking Entertaining Thoughts), or a suggestive ballad (Let's Spend the Day in Bed).

It would be fair to observe that after about 15 years and almost as many albums, Over The Rhine were due to move on from their alt.Americana and this album suggests they are doing that with considerable confidence, although the count of great songs isn't quite as high as on albums such as Ohio or Drunkards Prayer.

But while casual listeners won't be wooed and won, Over The Rhine devotees (and there are many) should be satisfied. Or very disappointed.

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