Over the Rhine
(Great Speckled Dog)
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2007, Volume 14, #12
Written by John Metzger
Sat December 8, 2007, 07:45 AM CST
In crafting Snow Angels, its second holiday-oriented affair, Over the Rhine threw out the plans that most groups tend to follow. Rather than attempting to cover any of the customary Yuletide standards, the ensemble boldly built Snow Angels from the ground up. Considering how tired so many Christmas albums tend to sound, Over the Rhine’s approach is remarkably refreshing. Nevertheless, it also, at least initially, makes Snow Angels a little difficult to embrace. If given a chance, though, the set eventually does reveal its seductive charm.
Over the Rhine doesn’t do any favors for itself by opening Snow Angels with All I Ever Get for Christmas Is Blue; the solemn sadness that clings to the tune’s blues, gospel, and R&B setting is enough to give one pause. Perseverance, however, is key. The jubilant, Beatle-esque bass lines that run through the subsequent Darlin’ (Christmas Is Coming) poke through the prevailing mood of despair, thus lifting front gal Karin Bergquist out of her doldrums. As the rest of the collection unfolds, the band’s methodology begins to make more sense.
Cleverly, Over the Rhine allowed a few wisps of familiarity to drift through Snow Angels, and not surprisingly, these moments provide prospective fans with an opportunity to gain their footing while listening to the endeavor. On Goodbye Charles, for example, the group lovingly pays tribute to Peanuts creator Charles Schultz by borrowing quite heavily from Vince Guaraldi’s classic soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Similarly, the spiritual carol O Little Town of Bethlehem is bent into the soothing folk hymn Little Town, and One Olive Jingle transforms Jingle Bells into a wonderfully blues-y motif. Elsewhere, the touchstones are less apparent. Snowed in with You finds Over the Rhine stepping onto Sam Phillips’ typical terrain; Here It Is goes somewhere completely different by crossing Melissa Etheridge with the Indigo Girls; the title track is a lovely piano ballad in the spirit of Natalie Merchant’s solo work; and New Redemption Song perfectly captures the sort of gospel-soul beauty that connects Po’ Girl to The Band.
As it progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Snow Angels serves as a mediation upon love and loss. It simultaneously is shrouded in the weariness of the waning year and bathed in the optimistic hope that the coming months will provide some semblance of relief. Nevertheless, Over the Rhine often struggles to find just the right balance for its pensive ruminations. Consequently, Snow Angels isn’t likely to be viewed as a holiday classic by anyone except those long-suffering souls who are tired of the same, old cheerful refrains that emanate from radio stations and storefronts from Labor Day until New Year’s Eve. ½
Other Reviews of Christmas Albums at The Music Box
Snow Angels is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box