Over the Rhine @ Utrecht and Dublin – March 2017.

There is a synchronicity that runs through life at times and can lead to moments of magic; unexplained and all the more precious for their arrival. Lonesome Highway discover the chance to witness live concerts from Over the Rhine in both Utrecht and Dublin, both within the space of 10 days, and for this writer who has admired their talents for many years, it is too good an opportunity to miss.

Indeed, had our timing worked out better there would have been the opportunity to chat with Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiller before both shows. Unfortunately said synchronicity does not extend to meeting-up as rental car delays and late arrival by this scribe, coupled with soundcheck commitments conspired against Utrecht and by the time Dublin came around, both artists are suffering from a debilitating bug that has them resting at every available moment prior to the actual performance.

However, a brief hello after both shows leads to the promise of an interview by e-mail (check the site over the coming weeks ...).

From Utrecht and the beautifully modern venue of Tivoli Vredenburg, built in 2014, with its innovative architecture and design - plenty of open space between the various floors and performance rooms; to the ancient Church setting in Dublin of the Unitarian Church built in 1861- the contrast in venues could not be more pronounced.

Both shows are very intimate affairs and filled with a quality of performance that underlines the rich talents of this husband & wife duo who have been producing sublime music for the last 25 years. This is roots music in all its splendid colours where influences of blues, country, folk and gospel are blended together into a cocktail mix that is delivered with such soulful expression.

Starting each show with Meet Me At The Edge Of The World, the title from the latest studio release, both musicians dove-tail around the melody with sensitive guitar interplay and the seamless vocal harmonies borne of playing together for so long. Karin has a voice that is quite beautiful in both quiet restraint and emotive delivery and when she opens her full range then the effect is quite something to witness.

The latest release features regularly during the show, as one would expect, and performances of Sacred Ground, Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body, Earthbound Love Song, Favourite Time Of Light and I’d Want You are included from this double album. Many older songs are in the hearts and wishes of the attentive audience but it is impossible to cover everybody’s favourite song in one show.

Their extensive back-catalogue is featured with Born, Trouble and Ploughkeepsie all displaying the vocal dexterity of Karin as she occasionally bends words to suit the mood of the song with a delivery that is always compelling and full of emotion. The wonderful piano playing of Linford is always a highlight and he dazzles with subtle interpretation, gentle touch and free form exploration on melody lines in support of each song.

When I Go is a soulful prayer with some jazz-like piano parts while Latter Days is a song that reflects upon common themes with its musing on the disillusionment of life and separation.

All My Favourite People from The Long Surrender (2001) and If A Song Could Be President, from The Trumpet Child, are two songs that fit very well together as the shows reach a climax and both are greeted with great enthusiasm.

In Utrecht, we are given the wonderful Suitcase, from the Ohio double album; while in Dublin, a rare performance of Jesus In New Orleans seems somewhat apt given the Church venue. There is also a beautifully delivered version of Drunkard’s Prayer, the title track from the 2005 album and the closing song on both nights is a fan-favourite, All I Need Is Everything.

Over the Rhine are completely comfortable onstage and the conversations and stories shared between Karin and Linford are a key component to the overall feel of each performance. Each location enjoys a different ambience and atmosphere and the performances are delivered with a subtle grace that is quite wistful and evocative of the human journey we all undertake; the frailty of life with its successes and failures, balanced against the lessons learned and the stumbles and progress born of experience.

The fact that they have managed to endure in this cut-throat industry on an independent basis for the last 25 years is tribute indeed to the countless artists like them who exist outside the media radar and who rely on word-of-mouth to keep their music alive and vibrant. Judging by the show of hands to ‘market-research’ carried out by Karin and Lindford there are quite a number of new fans who are seeing them play for the first time on this tour. Encouraging signs indeed.

Karin speaks of the artist’s role in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and this really sums up the joy of their astute song-writing and impressive musicianship, which is of the highest quality. The standing ovation received on both nights is proof positive that both Karin and Linford have an enduring place in the hearts and minds of so many music lovers across the distances.

Comparison is the thief of joy, as a very philosophical Karin states towards the end of the Dublin show and far be it from me to compare the unique talent that makes this compelling duo one of the greatest secrets of modern American music. Make sure you catch Over the Rhine the next time they tour in your country.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee