"Drunkard's Prayer"

Back Porch

Over the Rhine subscribes to the theory that leaving both music and lyrics gauzily atmospheric allows listeners to fill in the undefined areas with their own imagination. Critics of that theory will counter that such music-making is merely out of focus and lacks the specific verbal imagery and rhythmic definition that might stimulate an imagination willing to venture beyond self-absorption.

On the new Over the Rhine album, "Drunkard's Prayer," Karin Bergquist allows the vowels in her lead vocals to swell with feeling, barely bounded by the softened consonants between. Her husband and musical partner, Linford Detweiler, decorates these vocals with minimalist chamber-pop arrangements: His piano or acoustic guitar plays pretty arpeggios, while a guest cello or electric guitar mimics the humming sustain of Bergquist's admittedly lovely voice.

Lyrics such as "I learned to laugh through my tears / I was born to love / I'm gonna learn to love without fear," from "Born," resemble spiritual poetry or cheap greeting cards, depending on your susceptibility.

The album does boast one song that dares to plumb the divide between romance and reality with an assertive melody, crisp images and modernist irony. That song is "My Funny Valentine," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1937. The Over the Rhine duo tries to wrap the song in their trademark ethereality, but not even they can disguise its sharp contours.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Sunday at Jammin' Java.