Over the Rhine‘s Blood Oranges in the Snow may be a Christmas album, but it’s one that explores the bittersweet side of the holidays, long after the bells have stopped jingling. Bandmates Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist call it “reality Christmas music.” Leaving sleigh rides and Santa sightings to the carolers, the husband-and-wife duo mixes melancholy and melody in equal doses, making the argument that, when you really think about it, silent nights actually sound pretty lonely.
Although the album mostly focuses on new material, it also includes a cover of Merle Haggard‘s “If We Make It Through December.” Originally released on Merle Haggard’s Christmas Present in 1973, the song brought some gravity to an album that focused on lighter fare like “Bobby Wants a Puppy Dog for Christmas” and “Santa Claus and Popcorn.” As covered by Over the Rhine, it’s a swaying, sad-eyed tune about the doldrums of a month that seems to stretch on forever, threatening a couple’s rocky relationship along the way. Detweiler and Bergquist stack their voices into close harmonies throughout the tune, but the song’s characters still sound lonely, their bond weakened by a season that — if all the Hallmark holiday cards are to be believed — usually brings families together. (Listen to the song below.)
“Karin and I heard Merle Haggard’s ‘If We Make It Through December’ on a late-night drive last December,” says Detweiler, a multi-instrumentalist and harmony vocalist who wrote most of Blood Oranges in the Snow‘s original songs himself. “We looked at each other and knew we had to sing it. It had been years since we heard the song — one of the great ‘reality Christmas’ songs, to be sure.”
Later, when Over the Rhine began tracking Blood Oranges in the Snow, they pushed for originality over mimicry. The two recorded “If We Make It Through December” on the fly, without going back and listening to the Hag’s version.
“We wanted just a distant memory of the tune — the ghost of the song — haunting a version that would hopefully be very much our own,” Detweiler explains.