From The Desk Of Over The Rhine: Where The Hell’s The Drummer? Part One (Charlie Haden And Hank Jones’ “Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns And Folk Songs”)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Over The Rhine issued its debut album. The Ohio-based husband-and-wife duo of multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have marked the anniversary with new album The Long Surrender, which was produced by Joe Henry at his Garfield House home studio and features an assortment of musicians handpicked for the project by Henry, including Lucinda Williams. Though Detweiler and Bergquist had never worked with Henry or his assembled backing band before, The Long Surrender was finished in less than a week. The fan-funded, 13-track album was just released via OTR’s Great Speckled Dog Records, which the duo named after Elroy, their much-loved Great Dane who passed away last year. Detweiler and Bergquist will also be guest editing all week. Read our brand new Q&A with Detweiler.

Linford: I have a special, secret category of music that I love, that I didn’t plan on loving or even categorizing. But one day it dawned on me that I was reaching for certain records over and over that didn’t have any drums recorded on them. As much as I love great drummers, there is often a different kind of space, or a different kind of mutual breathing, that occurs between musicians who aren’t relying on a drummer.

This entire recording is just a simple dialogue between two musicians, an upright-bass player and a piano player, but the musical conversation is nonetheless rich and the communion deep. Plus, these gifted, seasoned jazz musicians pick up an important piece of the American music puzzle and explore it beautifully. Question: What do we do with all those hymns that many of our parents (and some of us) grew up with in churches all across the good ol’ USA? Where do they weave in and out of the fabric of American music? I would argue that there could have been no Elvis, there could have been no Johnny Cash, there could have been no Al Green without those hymnals. (Al started a gospel quartet when he was nine years old, Johnny spoke and wrote all his life about his mother’s hymnal, Elvis eventually owned up and recorded entire albums of hymns.) These icons of American music (and countless others) were positively steeped in gospel music as children.

The melodies that arose from the godforsaken fields of slavery in America pre-dated jazz and soul and rock ‘n’ roll by decades, but spirituals are often strikingly beautiful songs baptized in the minor keys of tragedy and loss and longing and blood. They certainly sowed fruitful seeds in the dirt of what became the music that could have only bloomed from a messy experiment like America.

On Steal Away, Hank Jones and Charlie Haden gently explore spirituals and hymn tunes including “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen,” ‘Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” and “Abide With Me.” And it all feels like music being played one room over in your house or apartment.

Video after the jump.