Amateur Shortwave Radio was compiled by Over the Rhine's keyboardist and chief songwriter, Linford Detweiler, to commemorate the band's tenth anniversary. Casual fans should beware: unlike many anniversary compilations, this is not a greatest-hits set. Detweiler put the record together with die-hard "Rhinelanders" in mind, which meant (literally) scouring the attic to find something the faithful hadn't heard before. The result is a collection of live material that, while not wholly satisfying as a representation of the band's work over the last decade, does deliver several previously unreleased gems and captures something of the way the group's identity shifted over the years. Early on, Over the Rhine's sound was often distinguished by the counterpoint between Karen Bergquist's sensitive and soulful vocals and Ric Hordinski's distinctive and powerful ambient electric guitar riffs. This sound is represented here by an almost unrecognizable, reverb-laden cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird" and a teasingly raucous "My Love Is a Fever." Hordinski's departure in 1996 coincided with a move in a somewhat mellower direction. Bergquist began spending more time behind an acoustic guitar, while Detweiler moved from bass to piano. The addition of Mike Georgin's fretless bass nudged them gently toward a jazzier, almost Portishead-esque trip-hop vibe. The slinky live versions of "Jack's Valentine" and "I Will Remember" may be the only samples of this period to make it onto an Over the Rhine CD. In 1998, with Detweiler on Hammond B-3 and newcomer Jack Henderson on electric guitar, the band began to flirt with a slick, borderline roots rock tone, as heard on the catchy "Moth," the 1999 reworkings of the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday," and the 1992 single "Circle of Quiet." The transition is not clearly defined, though. In fact, all of these directional shifts are merely subtle shadings of the distinctive, genre-defying Over the Rhine sound that Detweiler once dubbed "quasi-alternative folk-tinged art pop." Amateur Shortwave Radio paints a portrait of a constantly maturing band that is not afraid to experiment with new ideas. In looking back at the group's first decade, it gives Rhinelanders reason to believe that the best is yet to come.
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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater