Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post thoughts on Over the Rhine’s The Long Surrender… my favorite album of 2010… and 2011 (so far).

The band’s website calls The Long Surrender a 2011 release, but since almost all of their fans had the album in hand long before we hung up new 2011 calendars, I think of it as a 2010 record. Produced with exquisite textures and depth by Joe Henry, it’s my favorite album of the band’s 20-year career. Why haven’t I reviewed it yet? Simply because I haven’t felt ready yet. The music just keeps opening up new joys and new meaning for me. And that continues.

So I’m going to post some thoughts on each of the album’s 12 songs as a way of celebrating the ways in which Over the Rhine has blessed me.

And I want to begin by saying thank you to two people: Rick and Wendi Poole. …

When it comes to explaining the particular magic of Over the Rhine, I always come back to talking about the community that this music has drawn together. Over the Rhine fans love this music so much that they also tend to love each other. A lot. I’d been assigned to cover Over the Rhine’s 20th anniversary celebration in Cincinatti—a three-concert weekend—for a magazine. The band had offered me access to everybody involved for interviews, and it was going to be something truly special. A dream project. The peak of my adventures in journalism. But then I learned that my travel expenses weren’t covered, and the job fell apart.

Then, two Over the Rhine fans—Rick and Wendi—heard about this. Knowing what Over the Rhine means to me, and sharing that love, they reached out and blessed me with an expenses-paid trip to Cincinatti to attend the shows. So I went anyway, without any writing assignment, and I had an extraordinary, unforgettable weekend.

God bless those two. Yeah, this band has incredible musicians and songwriters, incredible music… and incredible fans. I don’t usually dedicate reviews to anybody. But Rick and Wendi, this is for you.

Here we go…

Track One: “The Laugh of Recognition”

Come on boys
It’s time to settle down
What do you think you’ll gain
From all this runnin’ around…

When I first heard “The Laugh of Recognition,” it gave me a warm, familiar feeling. I’ve lived with the music of Over the Rhine in my head 20 years now, and they’ve played a wide variety of sounds and styles. But this took me back to their 2005 album Drunkard’s Prayer, where they settled into a soulful, bluesy, even melancholy sound. I associate it with intimacy, confession, and fragile hope. Anne and I spent a lot of candlelit evenings listening to that record. It felt a little like a flashback.

But the more time I’ve spent with the lyrics of “The Laugh of Recognition,” the more they have taken hold of me. This isn’t a familiar song after all. I feel like Karin is singing about more than the hard work of keeping the band, the music, and the vision alive. I feel like she’s singing to me—telling me to be still, to let go, and to refrain from comparing my own accomplishments with others. She’s telling me to let go of what I wanted it all to be, to accept what it is, and to realize that it is enough. For now.

It’s the kind of wisdom that comes with age and experience. I just turned 41, and I don’t want to live the way I’ve been living anymore.

For more than a year, I’ve been overcommitted. I’ve been writing, reviewing, blogging, speaking, and trying to fulfill my responsibilities to employers, editors, publishers, audiences, friends, and family. I’ve been trying to make some dreams come true. And I’m exhausted. While I’ve learned a lot, achieved a few of those dreams, and enjoyed some grand adventures, it hasn’t added up to what I’d hoped for. And in many ways it has taken a heavy toll—on my health and my relationships, for starters.

But this song isn’t Over the Rhine’s way of saying “Give up on your dreams.” No, I hear them telling me to persevere, to hold on to the vision, and to see what new shape it might take. I hear them saying, “Just cease striving for a while, and stop taking yourself and your ambitions so damned seriously.”

Besides, the climb is not about getting to the mountaintop; it’s about the climb itself, and how we carry ourselves and each other along the way.

I hope that I am becoming a better climber. Looking at the 20-year career of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, I am inspired… no, amazed at their resilience. I want to have that kind of drive.

And, as Karin sings near the end of the song, “There is something to be said for tenacity.”

So there they will be, on the stage at The Triple Door in downtown Seattle, for three shows: November 18, 19, and 20. They’re making better music than ever, and playing to bigger audiences than ever, 20 years along the way. The story hasn’t gone the way they would ever have imagined. And it has almost ended, more than once. But they have held their heads up high through it all, and they’ve given me a good example to learn from.

I will be there on Friday the 19th, cheering for them. Grateful.

Do you want to share what one of the songs on The Long Surrender means to you? Email your thoughts, interpretations, and anecdotes to me at joverstreet@gmail.com. I may include excerpts in upcoming posts.

Next: Reflections on Track 2, “The Sharpest Blade”