"I wanna do better/I wanna try harder/I wanna believe down to the letter/Jesus and Mary, can you carry us across this ocean into the arms of forgiveness?"
— from "Long Lost Brother"

Over the Rhine could be the most acclaimed "Christian artist" you've never heard of. Operating very much at an underground, grassroots level, the husband–wife duo of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have earned loyal followings in mainstream and Christian circles (though you won't likely find their music in Christian bookstores). They've opened for the Cowboy Junkies and played in bars, but they've also played the Cornerstone music festival and at Christian colleges. They were also featured on Squint's 2000 tribute album to Roaring Lamb artists.

Ohio, the duo's 10th album, is a 2–disc, 21–song career–defining masterpiece—their "White Album," if you will. Sort of a mix of Sixpence None the Richer, Sarah McLachlan, and Lucinda Williams, Over the Rhine has masterfully blended sophisticated pop with folk, country, and gospel on Ohio. Weaving together an array of folk instruments, the typically mellow duo keeps things impressively eclectic for 90 minutes of music. Bergquist, widely regarded as one of the finest vocalists alive, is dynamic throughout, and both she and Detweiler (who offers some of his richest piano work to date) paint each song differently through the emotions of the lyrics and melodies.

Over the Rhine isn't overtly Christian in their music, but the foundation is clearly there. They won't preach at you or necessarily even point you in the right direction, but they will offer you a fascinatingly poetic faith–based perspective. Part of the joy is discovering what their music means to you personally, but Ohio is perhaps their most spiritually expressive album yet, loosely tied together by themes centered on the lifelong journey to return home. "What I'll Remember Most" expresses the duality of human nature ("You are eighty percent angel, ten percent demon, the rest is hard to explain"), while "Anything at All" borrows from the book of Romans: "Sooner or later, things will all come around for good."

There's only one reason (one word really) why Ohio hasn't been featured in our regular review coverage. Impassioned by the events in the Middle East and the fear of bringing a child into a fallen world, Bergquist uses one profanity in "Changes Come." Similar in tone to U2's "Wake Up, Dead Man," the bluesy lament pleads for Christ's return: "Changes come/Turn my world around … Jesus come/Bring the whole thing down … There is all this untouched beauty/The light the dark both running through me/Is there still redemption for anyone?" Similar emotions are expressed in "Long Lost Brother" (excerpted above), as well as the hidden track "Idea #21 (Not Too Late)," as Bergquist continually asks "how long" before all thing are made new.

Detweiler, the son of a minister, sees an intrinsic link between faith and art. "[Musician] Jane Siberry once said that all art was a form of prayer. I tend to agree. The music on Ohio is rooted in the gospel music we grew up with, but it's also splattered with the mud of real, everyday life. I feel a connection between many of the songs that tend to show up in my notebook and the Psalms that have woven themselves into the fabric of the faith. The Psalmist was all over the map—jubilant, thankful, unstoppable as well as pissed off, confused and downright glum. The Psalmist struggled with forgiveness, the tendency to want to hold a grudge, the desire to see one's enemies fry. But they are ultimately hopeful. I love how human the Psalms feel, and I hope our music feels much the same way—very human."

Human indeed, Ohio is one of 2003's most richly rewarding albums, sacred or secular.

Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here.