When Linford Detweiler calls, he and his wife/bandmate Karin Bergquist have just crossed the state line into Ohio near Lake Erie. Their folk outfit Over the Rhine just wrapped up a leg of their current tour in Massachusetts, and now they’re headed back home to their farm in Martinsville, Ohio.
They’ll head west in a couple of days for another leg of the tour, but for now they’ll rest a spell. The dream is to eventually bring folks to the farm — “to lure people to us a little more,” Detweiler says.
Understandable when you’ve been on the road for 30 years.
Their latest release, this year’s achingly cathartic Love and Revelation, is the 15th album for the duo who once jokingly (but kind of accurately) called their music “post-nuclear, pseudo-alternative, folk-tinged art-pop.”
Love and Revelation showcases a band still expanding, still finding new breadth and depth in their songcraft. With the help of engineer Ryan Freeland — who engineered Aimee Mann’s 2017 Grammy-winning triumph Mental Illness — Bergquist and Detweiler paint a vivid portrait of the many faces of grief.
It wasn’t intentional, Detweiler says, this grief soaked album, but it seemed to present itself. It’s like the grief inside of Bergquist, who did most of the songwriting on this album, needed some fresh air, an audience maybe. They’ve lost loved ones, they’ve watched friends lose loved ones, and you can hear that kind of individual grief throughout. But there’s a different kind of grief in the background, something collective and hard to name.
An American grief, perhaps.
“I guess like a lot of people in the country, maybe we’ve been feeling kind of off-balance about what’s happening with the country politically,” Detweiler says. “We are grieving the fact that maybe we aren’t quite sure who we are anymore as Americans. There’s a lot of anger and shock at the news, but beneath that shock is grief.”
This grief surfaces in unexpected places, like in the song “Given Road,” a real place near the couple’s home in Ohio.
“I often come to this intersection and there is that road sign waiting: Given Road,” Bergquist told music website Cross Rhythms earlier this year. “There is an old curved stone wall there too, which always makes me curious. Who built it? It sparked something in me. There is so much talk of walls these days. We think we need walls as self-imposed safe places. But are they?
“We wrote in an earlier song, ‘As for your tender heart, this world’s gonna rip it wide open/It ain’t gonna be pretty, but you’re not alone,’” Bergquist continued. “Maybe that’s the stretch of any Given Road that’s a gift: the part where we discover we are not meant to travel alone. Maybe we already have enough walls. Maybe we need to learn how to take care of each other.”
Detweiler and Bergquist have taken care of each other through the years (22 years married at this point). And together they’ve nurtured a thoughtful career, one crafted with the long haul in mind.
“For us, there were some sustainability decisions that happened early on in our career,” Detweiler offers. “We realized we had to own our own music to survive, we couldn’t give away music to a record label for a temporary windfall. We tried to find a touring culture that worked for us, as a married couple. I think we pretty much succeed at figuring that out. Could involve something as simple as one meal a day… with a good glass of wine.”
Detweiler laughs, but it’s true.
“[Tony Bennett] talks about coming to a point in life where he realized that he was maybe playing fast and loose with his ability to practice a vocation over the course of an entire lifetime. When he had that epiphany he made some significant lifestyle changes. Now he’s his 80s, still having a lot of fun as a singer, and a heck of a career. Willie Nelson released three records in the last year, and he’s in his 80s. John Prine, Leonard Cohen, made records late in life.”
“Emmylou Harris,” Bergquist chimes in from somewhere else in the car.
“We’re looking around and realizing that for some people it’s all about the work they’ve done in the past,” Detweiler says. “Other people evolved and continued to do pretty interesting work over the course of their lifetimes. I guess we’re more curious about practicing our writing and recording and all of that for the long haul.”
For the past four years, Detweiler and Bergquist have lured folks to their 19th century farmhouse for the Nowhere Else Festival, a three-day boutique music and arts festival. It’s part of that sustainability plan for the duo, a way to keep making music and building community, but maybe sleeping in their own beds a little more often.
Friendships are part of that plan too. During their trip to Massachusetts, Bergquist and Detweiler spent some time with an old friend, artist Barry Moser, perhaps best known for his illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
The three friends share a love of “a good story and a stiff martini,” Detweiler says. And Moser’s given them important lessons on how to live as artists and stay sane.
“He tells us, ‘Just do the work. Let other people decide whether or not it’s art.’”
ON THE BILLOver the Rhine & David Huckfelt. 7 p.m. eTown Hall, 1535 Spruce St., Boulder. Tickets are $38.50, etown.org.