Out from under the sprawling, ambitious Ohio, where sonic and lyric expanses were truly ambitious yet emotionally taut and controlled, Over the Rhine bring things back to the heart on Drunkard's Prayer. Literally recorded in the living room of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, it is the most intimate and personal recording in OTR's catalog. Acoustic guitars, upright bass, and piano are the primary instruments of expression here, though a drum kit, electric guitar, cello, and some sparse horns and organs weave their way through this quietly elegant mix. As a singer, Bergquist is becoming a true stylist. She has always been subtle, but she manages to underscore the maximum emotional intent in a sung line by relying on nuance and an increasingly sophisticated manner of phrasing rather than histrionics. She lets her words drop with full literate articulation, yet she leaves unnecessary weight outside the song's frame. There is no ether on Drunkard's Prayer; songs are relaxed yet fully formed, rooted in a sense of place and time. There is a touch of melancholy even in the most hopeful tomes here, such as on the gorgeous "Born," where Pete Hicks' slippery electric guitar hovers spectrally over the sparse piano and acoustic foundation. Bergquist juxtaposes the seriousness of learning to love and laugh in the midst of living an everyday existence: "Put your elbows on the table/I'll listen as long as I am able/There's nowhere I'd rather be/Secret fears, the supernatural/Thank God for this new laughter/Thank God the joke's on me…." Lines wind together and shimmer in the foreground as voice and instruments become one. On "Spark," amid Detweiler's piano and David Henry's cello, gently yet purposefully strummed six-strings gently urge Bergquist to offer love's manifesto as the only concrete hope in the midst of fear: "You either lose your fear/Or spend your life with one foot in the grave/Is God the last romantic?" Addressing fear is a preoccupation; it is touched on nearly everywhere -- not as a physical force, but as an elemental construct in the heart of Bergquist's protagonists, a place inside the individual that needs to be encountered, entered into a dialogue with, and understood if it is to be dismissed -- give a listen to "Lookin' Forward" and "Little Did I Know." Love in its different incarnations -- from embrace to loss and grief to acceptance -- is the other experiential terrain here. "Hush Now," "I Want You to Be My Love," and "Bluer" are fine and varied illustrations where folk, rock, and American roots musics caress and kiss. The set closes with a an original, arresting arrangement of "My Funny Valentine." It is here that Bergquist's discipline as a vocalist is displayed in spades. Drunkard's Prayer is perhaps the only recording that could have followed Ohio. It is tender, poetic, gracious, and in places deeply moving. As mature and assured as it is, it may also be the best place for the uninitiated to get acquainted with OTR.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek