Lindford Detweiler and Karin Berquist firmly avoid clichés about reindeers, Santa's beard or presents underneath the tree throughout Blood Oranges in the Snow. Instead, they present the holidays as a time to ponder our failures and hope for redemption ("And these weapons we still love to handle/May our children have strength to let go," Detweiler sings on "Another Christmas"), pray for peace ("Bethlehem," written by Scotland's Jack Henderson, hopes the biblical town can finally "Be still tonight be still"), or plead for relief at a time of overwhelming commercial pressures (Merle Haggard's classic "If We Make It Through December"). On the mournful "My Father's Body" — the album's darkest narrative — the Ohio couple remembers the man whose hands now "…hold nothing but the earth…" over stately strings.
While there are no moments of forced sentimentality and syrupy nostalgia, the album is not all doom-and-gloom. The gorgeous title track, inspired by trips home from boarding school, vividly captures the anticipation of childhood Christmases, while a cover of Kim Wilson's "Snowbirds" offers a pleasantly unexpected dose of escapism ("No more snow boots no earmuffs no sweaters/Just warm weather"). "First Snowfall," a looping, country-tinged ode to a broken-down neighbourhood transformed by the snow — and perhaps a little booze — ("It's like an angel starts singing/An old gospel song/In that part of town where/No angel belongs") finds Over the Rhine at its bittersweet best.
Blood Oranges in the Snow may not fit everyone's idea of holiday cheer, but its thoughtful lyrics and typically elegant Americana will be lovingly cherished by those who gravitate more towards contemplative, reflective fare like Low's Christmas or Tracey Thorn's Tinsel and Lights than Michael Bublé's Christmas at this time of the year. (Great Speckled Dog)