Worthy Tribute to Over the Rhine
- 2002 3 May
Who is Over the Rhine, you ask? You should be ashamed, my friend. The old cliché "one of the greatest unknown bands" has been applied to them for more than a decade. The band mixes moody and poignant lyrics, female vocals and rock 'n roll. Think Cowboy Junkies, but more -- awake.
Three different types of songs comprise this double-disc set: 1) those that are mind-bogglingly, stunningly, exquisitely great; 2) those that are good, but are too much a shadow of the original -- which, let's face it, can't possibly be improved upon -- to be more than just a nice listen; and 3) those that are really, really wrong.
Fortunately, there are very few of 3 and enough of 1 and 2 to make it more than worth your fifteen-or-so bucks. (By the way, unless you're in Cincinnati, the only way you can get it is by visiting drewvogel.com; all proceeds are donated to charity, and domestic shipping is free. Now back to our regularly scheduled review. . . .)
Most of the songs with lead female vocals on What It Takes fall into category 2. Jessica Aguilar Walker (Paul and Virginia) and Splendid Rain (Should) are talented musicians in their own right -- I would recommend checking out their albums -- but if I'm going to listen to an Over the Rhine song without Karin Bergquist singing lead, then either Linford better be rappin' or it better be a true innovation.
A few songs with male lead vocals also fit category 2 (All I Need Is Everything by Paul Soupiset or Etcetera Whatever by Ashley Peacock), but the male vocals are enough of a departure from the originals to make these new versions interesting.
The beauty and genius of the best tribute albums are the surprising, even perturbing reinterpretations of songs that you thought couldn't be improved upon. But in the hands of another artist, a song can take on a wonderful life of its own, despite the preconceived notions of a diehard fan.
The faster guitar-driven version of Miles by Ellipsis is a personal favorite. Theres something positively delightful about hearing a man sing "you can write your name on the water/it will drift on out to sea/you can treat me like a daughter/you can write your name on me." Plus, the track ends with a little ditty on hammer dulcimer!
Another prize track is HyperSomnia's Murder (one of OTR's best), which features Moroccan-style instrumentals and spooky vocals that sound as if Death itself is speaking. This one will wake you up and demand your undivided attention.
A fitting follow-up is the funky, semi-industrial Grey Monologue by Drew Vogel, the man behind the tribute project. He speaks the lyrics, as in the original, but in an ominous "Voice from above" fashion.
By far, the absolute best, most inspiring, and most outrageously different track is the reinterpretation of Jacks Valentine.
Take the advice of a major fan with high hopes: Go buy the little-known What It Takes to Please You. Ill just leave it at that.