The Trumpet Child
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Aug
- I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time
- I'm on a Roll
- Nothing Is Innocent
- The Trumpet Child
- Entertaining Thoughts
- Who'm I Kiddin' But Me
- Let's Spend the Day in Bed
- Desperate for Love
- Don't Wait for Tom
- If a Song Could Be President
Piano man Linford Detweiler and vocalist Karin Bergquist have been making beautiful music together for more than fifteen years as the creative core of Over the Rhine, and their artistry has earned them a fanatical following in the process. But it almost came to a screeching halt in 2004 with the near dissolution of their marriage. Thankfully, they worked hard to talk it out together, sought counseling, and came through with a strengthened relationship. This reaffirmation of their love was documented two years ago on Drunkard's Prayer (one of our favorite albums of 2005).
The Trumpet Child is essentially the second honeymoon—a playful, flirtatious romp for the couple as they explore new territory to express their love. With the help of producer/arranger Brad Jones (Ron Sexsmith, Matthew Sweet), Over the Rhine offers a project that surrounds Detweiler's piano with horns, woodwinds, and strings to take their Americana pop style into cabaret and lounge jazz. As anyone familiar with Begquist's amazing voice can imagine, she sounds terrific singing like Billie Holliday and Patsy Cline to sultry torch songs.
Did I say sultry? There's a definite air of romance and suggestiveness throughout The Trumpet Child, though perfectly appropriate in the context of marriage. At face value nothing's too racy, but there's still imagery and innuendo waiting to be (ahem) uncovered. It's not unlike the varied interpretations of the lyrics to the Christmas classic "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (which Over the Rhine has covered, coincidentally)—is the guy sincerely looking out for his date's well-being, or is he looking for some, er, action? Both?
In the same way, a song like "Let's Spend the Day in Bed" can potentially be interpreted the wrong way, but as a portrait of sweet marital bliss, the soulful pop ballad offers lines about getting "stoned on love" while reading children's author Shel Silverstein and rubbing each other's feet. "Trouble" meanwhile smolders like a tango (I think it's the Bossa Nova, actually), as Bergquist flirts with romantic temptation—again more within the context of a relationship than an affair. "Entertaining Thoughts" works similarly in expressing obsession, using the same straightforward acoustic pop sound used for previous songs like "Show Me" and "Lookin' Forward."
Knowing Detweiler's upbringing, "Who'm I Kiddin' but Me" sounds like Bergquist's love letter to her husband: "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." In turn, "Desperate for Love" matches Detweiler's dancing piano lines with playful clarinet and oboe. Ironically, the album's "raunchiest" sounding song doesn't have anything to do with romance—"Don't Wait for Tom" is more a tribute to Tom Waits with a ragtime stomp, some spoken word from Detweiler, and an odd juxtaposition of religious imagery with illicit behavior.
Over the Rhine also reflects on political themes with the soft acoustic shuffle of "Nothing Is Innocent," lamenting the current state of the government as people blindly accept policy as truth. A more lighthearted approach is found on "If a Song Could Be President," using country music to imagine legends like Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and John Prine holding public office based on their songwriting qualities (though "We wouldn't need an underachiever-in-chief" may strike some as disrespectful).
In case you haven't noticed, The Trumpet Child is light on spiritual content compared to previous releases, though it's very much the driving force behind the stunning title track, a powerhouse standard inspired by the book of Revelation when all things are made new. What will the trumpet sound like on that day? Maybe not Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong, but then Jesus has always been good at defying expectations: "With Gabriel's power and Satchmo's grace, he will surprise the human race … He'll improvise a kingdom come, accompanied by a different drum."
This is not my favorite OTR album, though some fans are hailing it as their best. After two romance projects, I miss some of the broader themes and spiritual subtext heard on Ohio and Films for Radio. This disc is a musical departure from the duo's alt-pop style of past albums—like a pop artist releasing a swing album or a rock band trying worship music.
It's nevertheless a brilliantly performed album of love songs, and as Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael O'Brien have demonstrated, there's nothing wrong with Christians indulging their romantic side a la Song of Solomon. And rather than sweet nothings, they offer original songs with substance and nuance, something addressed in the opening song "I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time"— "I won't pray this prayer with you unless we both kneel down/I don't wanna waste good wine if you won't stick around." No worries, Over the Rhine. Your pursuit for significance has paid off with another classy and playful album.