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Drunkard's Prayer

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Mar
Drunkard's Prayer
Sounds like … a mellow hybrid of pop, folk, and jazz that recalls the work of Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, Mindy Smith, and Emmylou Harris.At a glance … a quiet and intimate recording, Drunkard's Prayer is an artistic triumph—a stunning confessional that chronicles two people in love, struggling to keep the faith and maintain their marriage.Track Listing I Want You to Be My LoveBornDrunkard's PrayerBluerSparkHush Now (Stella's Tarantella)Lookin' ForwardLittle Did I KnowWho Will Guard the DoorFireflyMy Funny Valentine

Over the Rhine's humble-yet-illustrious career has earned them widespread critical acclaim and a passionate following, but it almost ended in 2003 while the husband-wife duo was on tour for their previous double-disc release, Ohio. A friend who saw them in concert with me at that time noted that they seemed a little sad and tired, despite their knockout performance. Sure enough, a few days later, they canceled the rest of the tour. They publicly cited burnout, but privately, lead singer Karin Bergquist and keyboardist Linford Detweiler realized their marriage was in trouble.

"There was very little energy or creativity or time left over for our marriage, and it was taking a toll," Detweiler said recently. "We had to learn that putting a long-term relationship on autopilot indefinitely can be dangerous. … We opted to start over, reinvent our own relationship, and … redirect the same thought and energy that we had been putting into writing and performing, toward our life at home together. We prayed a lot. Our friends prayed a lot. It was the beginning of a wonderful new chapter for us. And hopefully, some of what we've learned has not only made us better people, but better songwriters."

It's refreshing to see a talented act like OTR do the right thing by putting their marriage ahead of their music. Now the couple says their nine-year marriage is stronger than ever, with hopes of starting a family soon. In the wake of all this honesty and soul searching, Over the Rhine yields what could well be their most personal collection of songs.

The title cut on Drunkard's Prayer sets the confessional tone for the other tracks. Accompanied only by a reverberating piano with bass, cello, and sax, the haunting love ballad from a hard-luck perspective could easily be referring to either earthly or spiritual reconciliation—"Sweet intoxication when your words wash over me/Whether or not your lips move, you speak to me." Indeed the title itself suggests Ephesians 5:18, and OTR is open about its biblical inspiration: "Everybody wants to be drunk on the good stuff—drunk on life, love, music, the wine of God, and what not. In the New Testament, when the believers were first filled with the Holy Spirit and started speaking in tongues, the onlookers thought they were drunk. It takes some of that same holy foolhardiness to attempt to be an artist, a lover, a true friend, an adopted Child of God."

That blending of intimacy and spirituality has endeared OTR to fans over the years, but Drunkard's Prayer delivers with even more candidness. It is essentially a musical journal for marriage counseling, recorded simply but effectively in Detweiler and Bergquist's living room, with a few musician friends. "Born" illustrates the couple's new outlook on love and life, sparsely recorded with piano and guitars as a beautiful expression of thanks to God while acknowledging the presence of the Holy Ghost—"I was born to laugh/I learned to laugh through my tears/I was born to love/I'm gonna learn to love without fear."

This very mellow disc, with its scarce percussion and occasionally lengthy and quiet instrumental jams, won't draw everyone in. But those who like the idea of fusing folk, jazz, and pop—Sarah McLachlan meets Norah Jones with hints of Mindy Smith—will find a lot to love. The subdued, jazzy confessional "Little Did I Know" will appeal to Jones' fans especially, while hinting at just how close Bergquist and Detweiler came to splitting apart. "Spark," meanwhile, is perhaps the most radio-friendly on the album—a McLachlan-styled pop arrangement explaining how love and marriage take great effort: "Obsessions with self-preservation faded when I threw my fear away/It's not a thing you can imagine/You either lose your fear or spend your life with one foot in the grave/Is God the last romantic?"

Many of the songs pertain directly to the couple's relationship—the playful and romantic "Hush Now" reveals two people deeply in love, and the beautiful cover of "My Funny Valentine" is to die for. But other cuts like "I Want You to Be My Love" are written more generally. Though surely written with the marital context in mind, it can just as easily be viewed in the context of any loving relationship, including ours with Christ: "I want you to be my love/'Cause I want you, I know all you've been through."

Detweiler continues to prove himself a deft keyboardist, and Bergquist remains one of the most passionate and beautiful voices on the planet. This may be the fourth-best album in Over the Rhine's discography, but Drunkard's Prayer still speaks volumes about their artistic excellence. They liken their marriage to a long-shot entry in a horse race—hence the album cover—one that can only be run by keeping the lines of communication open and baring their souls to each other. We're all winners with this thoughtful and touching recording.

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