Over the Rhine – Meet Me at the Edge of the World (review)

Over the Rhine – Meet Me at the Edge of the World (Great Speckled Dog / Red Eye) review

Meet Me at the Edge of the World is the second collaboration between the Ohio band Over the Rhine and Grammy-winning producer, singer & songwriter Joe Henry.  But, while 2011’s The Long Surrender was dominated by Henry’s eerie production, which gave the record a dark, ominous quality, this new album is warm and inviting; many of the songs dominated by acoustic guitars and Karin Bergquist’s lived-in vocals, giving the proceedings a back porch feel.

It’s the kind of album that may take a few listens to sink in, especially because of its length (18 tracks, spread over two CDs).  But, the end result is music that is deeper and richer than their previous efforts.  Henry still works his magic, but his gift this time is adding deep textures, giving yearning and longing to many of the tracks, especially through the use of pedal steel guitars.

Much of the album’s subject matter deals with Bergquist and husband Linford Detweiler’s purchase of a large stretch of land in Southern Ohio, dubbed “Nowhere Farm.” In fact, the Buckeye State gets name-checked throughout the record – “Meet Me at the Edge of the World” sounds like the last safe place on the planet, while their love is compared to an impending Midwest snow in “Highland County.”

Whether they’re watching a beautiful sunset (“Favorite Time of Light”), or marveling at the heavens (“Blue Jean Sky” – with the great line “gimme a swig of a little kick-ass beauty”), the end result portrays Ohio as a magical place, far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.  Nowhere is this domestic bliss more apparent than in the pair’s duet on “All Over Ohio,” which features Detweiler’s scruffy delivery.

Percussionist Jay Bellerose, who lent his unique rhythm technique to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, never oversteps his bounds.  His drumming sounds like the trotting of a horse on “Called Home,” and an Indian war chant on “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body.”

“Earthbound Love Song” is one of the many highlights, featuring the line “we need a love like Johnny and June,” referring to the famous, now-deceased country duo.  The bluesy “Baby This is Nowhere” helps liven things up a little, but for the most part, this is a laid-back record.

They’re joined by former ’til Tuesday front woman Aimee Mann, who provides backup vocals to “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down.”  The lone song they did not write is “It Makes No Difference,” originally from the Band’s Northern Lights-Southern Cross LP.  Here, they strip things down to the song’s bare essence.

Over the Rhine creates music that is the complete opposite of the trendy fare being pumped out of the big cities.   Meet Me at the Edge of the World celebrates domestic happiness, and a rural, back-to-basics.  It reminds us that a simpler life is within our reach.  Even if it’s out of your grasp at the moment, this album can temporarily take you there.  —Tony Peters