Over the Rhine

Good Dog Bad Dog: The Home Recordings

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Five years after the dissolution of their relationship with IRS Records, the Cincinnati-based lit-pop band Over the Rhine once again became a major-label presence when they signed with Back Porch, a new offshoot of Virgin Records. The group took the opportunity to refine and reissue their 1996 homespun masterpiece Good Dog Bad Dog, which had already sold 25,000 copies at concerts and through mail order despite never being officially released. Though Over the Rhine had originally planned a more expansive production for Good Dog Bad Dog, the new edition doesn't tamper with the stripped-down, primarily acoustic approach that the band settled on out of necessity. Wise choice. The depth and maturity of the songwriting and the stark beauty created by the minimal settings are the album's greatest assets. They create an aura of simplicity that lends authenticity to the themes of healing and hope that run throughout Linford Detweiler's literate lyrics, so that when Karin Bergquist sings, "We don't need a lot of money/ We'll be sleeping on the beach/ Keeping oceans within reach," it has the feeling of a mission statement. The Back Porch reissue of Good Dog Bad Dog makes only three changes (aside from the improved art direction), omitting two songs and adding one. Few fans are likely to miss "A Gospel Number," which never seemed consistent with the quality of the rest of the record. The concert favorite "Jack's Valentine" is a better song, but it's also a wise omission since the Kerouac hipness doesn't really fit in with the soulful surroundings; it belongs on a funkier album. Those tracks have been replaced with "It's Never Quite What It Seems," a beautiful breakup ballad that's a perfect fit for this album, both in its sparse arrangement and its beginnings-from-endings lyrics. Its inclusion helps makes Good Dog Bad Dog more consistent and cohesive, improving an album that already stood as Over the Rhine's finest offering.

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