The Trumpet Child, Over the Rhine

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When it comes to wanting what’s real,
There’s no such thing as greed.

So sings Karin Bergquist in the first track of Over the Rhine’s 2007 CD, The Trumpet Child. She sings it in a voice so sultry it makes me blush a little just listening to her.

The Trumpet Child is about desire, about longing. The title track is about the Second Coming, that event for which the whole creation waits with longing and desire. I’m trying to resist the temptation to quote the lyrics to the whole song here, but I hope you’ll at least indulge me in a long quotation:

The Trumpet Child will banquet here
Until the lost are truly found…

The rich forget about their gold,
The meek and mild are strangely bold.
A lion lies beside a lamb
And licks a murderer’s outstretched hand.

The Trumpet Child will lift a glass,
His Bride now leaning in at last.
His final aim–to fill with joy
The earth that man all but destroyed.

That last, Chestertonian idea–that joy rather than judgment is the ultimate aim of Judgment Day–helped me make sense of the whole album. The rest of the songs on the CD concern themselves with desires and longings that are very much of this world rather than the next. The most persistent theme is sexual desire, usually unrequited.

The desire for joy and the desire for pleasure aren’t the same thing; Bergquist and her husband Linford Detweiler (they wrote all the songs on the album) never conflate the two. But they do acknowledge that there is a place where genuine joy and earthly pleasure overlap. In groping around for that place, they’re willing to get it wrong; instead of saying, “Here’s what earthly desire ought to be like,” they seem to be saying, “Here’s what earthly desire is like…now what does that tell us about our truest desires?”

When it comes to wanting what’s real, there’s no such thing as greed. But the truth is, we want a lot that isn’t real, and Detweiler and Bergquist are willing to wrestle around with that too. So in the song “Trouble,” we get the lyric,

If you came to make trouble,
Make me a double, Honey,
I think it’s good.

Or in “Who’m I Kidding but Me,”

You smell like sweet magnolias
And Pentecostal residue
I’d like to get to know ya
And shake the holy fire right out of you,
But oh, who’m I kiddin’ but me.

But then there’s “Let’s Spend the Day in Bed,” a sweet, quiet song about–well, staying in bed all day. It’s a picture of marital bliss that is more than a metaphor for the abundant life. The point, it seems to me, is that this is the abundant life that Jesus promised–or, rather, a little sliver of it. Obviously there’s more to the abundant life than earthly happiness. But where and how and why they’re connected–those are questions worth exploring.

In Detweiler’s lyrics, the trumpet that will blow on the last day

Is being fashioned out of fire.
The mouthpiece is a glowing coal,
The bell a burst of wild desire.

I love that image. We’re each of us a swirl of desires, some noble, some petty, some seedy. This CD explores many of those desires, including the seedy. But poised above them all is that fiery trumpet. And when it blows, we won’t be relieved of desire, but swept up in a greater, wilder desire. The glowing coal will burn away the false desires and leave the true, and the Trumpet Child will fill the universe with the joy that was the point all along.

p.s. It occurs to me that this isn’t really a music review. I guess it’s a poetry review. I’ll rely on the Rabbit Room’s more musically sophisticated readers and contributors to address the music itself, which is pretty fabulous.

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


16 Comments

  1. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Over the Rhine is and has long been one of those groups that creates an atmosphere with their music– one that really takes you places, I think.

    I love the older stuff, and haven’t really kept up. “All I Need is Everything” from Good Dog Bad Dog, 1996, is one of those songs that creeps into my mind and becomes one of those songs that gets stuck in my head for entire days at a time (as I’m sure it will now that I’ve named it again.) This should be good to get my hands on. Thanks Jonathan.

  2. Micah Pick

    I had a couple of dollars left on an iTunes gift card on Sun, and so I was roaming around the store looking for a CD that I didn’t want to buy the whole thing but liked a couple of the songs. And I happened to stumble across The Trumpet Child, and after listening to the clips of all the tracks to figure out which of them I wanted, I bought the whole CD. I absolutely love it.

  3. BenHoak

    I’m with Russ — the Good Dog/Bad Dog songs can stay in your head for hours, but in a good way. Sounds as if it’s time to add some new OTR to the mix. Love that first line.

  4. tony kevin

    Yeah this record has changed the way I hear music in many ways. I would love to know more about the song Don’t Wait For Tom. Not only is it unmercifully groovy, but it seems to play a trick on me, because it has a definite Tom Waitsish feel to it. And the song is called Don’t Wait For Tom. Hmm.

  5. Katherine

    I was unfamiliar with OTR until I saw them tour for this record this past summer. I was only at the show because a friend of mine was in the opening band. Since the show was an hour away and we had work the next day, we only planned to stay for a few songs. However, as soon as they began, we were entranced. They mostly played from this album and it was truly incredible. They are truly incredible. I’ve been listening to the record almost constantly since then and continue to find more and more to love about it. Don’t Wait for Tom is a favorite, but it’s pretty hard to pick. It’s refreshing and inspiring to find a such a stellar combination of musicianship and depth of lyric. I’m thrilled you included it in your reviews!

  6. David Kern

    Tony,
    I recently saw OTR live and at the show Linford Detweiler actually said that he wrote “Dont Wait For Tom” following a tom Waits show: it is indeed about Waits, and is as much a tribute to his genius as anything.

    The Whole album seems to be in tribute to various artists, particularly uniquely American artists, from years or eras past.

  7. Andrew C

    I definitely want to check this CD out. I’ve never heard OTR before, but the description you have given sounds awesome. It seems so easy to be distracted by lesser desires when Jesus is offering us so much more as He fulfills us. One of the coolest things, I think, is when art, such as music like this, stirs up our desire and imagination of how far Jesus extends beyond what we can imagine.

  8. Chris R

    While I love OTR, I highly recommend their previous studio album, Drunkard’s Prayer. It is one of the most beautiful, honest albums I have ever heard… and I kind of fall in love with Karen every time I hear her sing. Dont tell Linford.

  9. tony kevin

    David,

    Thank you for that. It was driving me nuts. Because it seemed that they were completely describing Mr. Waits. He is a genius and the song is a fitting tribute. Thanks for clearing it up for me! It all makes sense now.

  10. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Great article, Laura. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. The Trumpet Child really is like a little crash course on what’s great about American music.

  11. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I have mixed feelings about this review – so happy it’s here, disappointed that I didn’t write about it first! This was an album in my queue for the rabbit room, but to be honest, I’m happier that you wrote about it – it was an unexpected pleasure to find another contributor in the rabbit room who loves OTR as much as I do. I would have to name them as my favorite band of the last 6 years.

    For the uninitiated, there’s a story at work here, and I think a good place to start is with their album “Ohio” (which for my money is still my favorite OTR record). It’s a sweeping double record with consistently GREAT songs – lyrically, melodically, musically. It gained them a lot of new fans, exposure, and a rigorous touring schedule that almost destroyed their marriage. They cancelled the tour mid-way through to go home and see if they could piece their marriage back together.

    The story goes that they sat at home at their table and drank a bottle of wine each night as they talked through their junk. Their marriage was saved and out of it came the intimate “Drunkard’s Prayer” which fights hard to unseat “Ohio” as my favorite OTR record. Here’s a lyric I’ve always loved from that record that to me sums up the theme:

    “I was born to love, I’m gonna learn to love
    Through my fears
    I was born to laugh, I’ll learn to laugh
    Through my tears”

    Their next record (aside from a great Christmas record I hope to review later) was “The Trumpet Child”. If “Drunkard’s Prayer” was about working through marital conflict, then “Trumpet Child” to me is the second honeymoon. It is a celebration of music, eros, and of course the ultimate desires of our longing for Christ, and His longing for His bride.

    It is one of the most wholesomely sexy albums I own – Karin’s voice… well… let’s just say I’m breaking a sweat thinking about it ;-).

    It lacks some of the brooding introspection that I’m usually drawn to in OTR’s music (that is abundant in both “Ohio” and “Drunkard’s Prayer”), but I think that’s a part of what makes this record so good – it’s unashamedly exuberant and sonically is a brighter affair with a fully realized production value as opposed to the stripped down feel of previous records. It’s less rootsy this time around and more boisterous.

    The line I keep coming back to is the opening lyric:

    “I don’t want to waste your time with music you don’t need
    Why should I autograph the book that you won’t even read
    I’ve got a different scar for every song and blood left still to bleed
    And I don’t want to waste your time with music you don’t need

    I don’t want to waste good wine if you won’t stick around…
    I won’t pray this prayer with you unless we both kneel down…”

    Not only is “The Trumpet Child” a celebration of all that we’ve mentioned here, but to me it also seems like a refresher course on how to be a good music listener, what it means to really engage music and treat it less like a disposable commodity and more like the precious magic that it is. Or to borrow from OTR, to learn how to savor it like a good wine.

  12. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    I knew I could count on the more sophisticated listeners in the Rabbit Room to pick me up. I’m filing away the phrase “fully realized production value” in case I ever write another music review. Thanks for the great insights, Jason et al.

  13. Matt Conner

    Absolutely, the Trumpet Child is fantastic. I’ve been a big fan of OtR for a long time since Good Dog, Bad Dog, but I agree that Ohio is their best. This album is a bit too whimsical for my tastes as I prefer the headier, heavier fare, but obviously Karen and Linford are blessed to perform anything well and this album is still great.

  14. Corey Beebe

    This album is outstanding. Jason, I was surprised that you didn’t write the first review 🙂 but you two are a good team, you cannot have the music review without the poetry review…the whole thing is poetry. I’m gushing…I love them. This album has been so much fun for my husband and I to listen to as we learn what marriage is all about (“pajama holiday” is our new favorite date!) Thanks to OtR and thanks for the great reviews!

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