Tag Archives: Al Anderson

Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #2

It’s not often that a veteran artist belts one out of the park deep into their career; most tend to hit the heights early on and then survive on reputation. Of course there are many who are consistently good over many years (although the musical landscape doesn’t really permit that anymore unless you are bringing in the coin). Tom Petty, U2 and Bruce Springsteen can write their own ticket, but artists less familiar who don’t sell big numbers have a tougher road to hoe.

Christine Ohlman, a/k/a The Beehive Queen, has survived that tough road for a long time thanks to an unwavering committment to follow her instincts and ignore musical fads and trends. As a walking musical encyclopedia with a ten-star voice and an ability to channel soul and passion through her music, she’s made several great records. But with The Deep End, she stepped up to the plate and crushed that fastball. Crack musicianship, first-rate songwriting, a dazzling array of guest artist collaborators, and – most importantly – the soul of Christine Ohlman fusing it all together.

Video: inside take on The Deep End

I had the great pleasure of seeing the band play two sets this past Summer, and had a brief audience with the Queen afterwards. While that has nothing to do with my feelings about this album – I had already made that clear in April – I was thrilled to find that she was every bit the delightful, witty and appreciative musicologist that I hoped she’d be (bee?). If you’ve been a fan over the years you already know what a great album The Deep End is. But if you are new to Christine and her catalogue…and I suspect many of you are…man, do you have some sweet moments ahead of you.

Listen to clips at Amazon

The Beehive

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Blast From The Past: The Wildweeds

It wasn’t unusual for bands in the 60s to work their way to the top of the local and regional pile and get an opportunity to take that next big step to stardom. But consider the obstacles – how primitive the communication and public relations tools were, how few venues there were to siphon through as an artist – and it’s not hard to look at the long list of bands who were one-hit wonders*.

Now take that down a notch and think about the bands who just missed that rung – a breakout regional hit whose spark just didn’t catch enough fire – and that list gets exponentially longer. There is so much great music that never got its due, but thanks to the ability to create and promote a label from your desktop, more and more are getting their day in the sun. One such band is The Wildweeds, who were monsters in Connecticut but failed to explode nationally. Their recorded canon labored in obscurity for decades despite having a famous alumni, the great Al Anderson on guitar, who went on to achieve legendary status with NRBQ.

I pulled this record out again after getting an email from Doc Cavalier‘s daughter Darlene which included a link to this great video her Dad spliced together. I didn’t recall having seen the Wildweeds video before – turns out it’s the only video of this lineup – but I did remember Michael Shelley issuing this great CD on his Confidential Recordings label a few years back, so I pulled it out to play it.

No Good To Cry assembles singles and studio tracks from The Wildweeds Cadet era tracks plus ten additional songs; all were remastered by Doc Cavalier and Richard Robinson, and for the most part you can see where the band’s “Soul City” moniker came from. Most tracks sit squarely at the intersection of Philly soul/r&b and garage rock, much like their contemporaries The Young Rascals. There’s a great photo on the back of the booklet where the band is standing in a field of…well…three guesses. With their powder-blue suits and stocky frames, they look about as hip as The Turtles.

Having the ability to morph from jazzy to surf to psychedelic sounds, and with a spirited vocalist like Bob Dudek on many tracks, they were versatile and sophisticated. Vocal arrangements that rivaled harmony groups like The Association; guttural pop blues that emulated Blood Sweat and Tears, and numbers featuring flute and acoustic guitar reminiscent of early Traffic. (And yes, they might toss in a Beethoven riff during the bridge if they felt like it.)

I could go on about the band’s history and demise, but I’d prefer to point you to a couple of experts. Ironically one of the best essays about the band was written by Christine Ohlman, whose album I highlighted two days ago. (Christine, as you would expect, is a passionate writer and music historian in addition to her performing skills). And major kudos to Richard Brukner (co-founder of Confidential Recordings) for his excellent essay in the liner notes, just one part of a fabulous package that was assembled with love and respect.

Forty years after the 60’s ended, Felix Cavaliere is playing with Steve Cropper. Jimmy McCarty and Johnny Badanjek are playing together. Richard X Heyman is enjoying success with his 60s garage band, The Doughboys. Not every trip down memory lane is fueled by money; sometimes it’s just the right thing to do at the time.

Likewise, although I listen to a ton of new music, there’s no reason to turn my back on the past… especially if I’m experiencing some of it for the first time. Please do seek this one out and be rewarded like I was.

*No Good To Cry actually did register as a “one-hit wonder” in a 1990 collection on Rhino Records.

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And Happy Birthday to Russell Crowe, who has never thrown a telephone at me,  but whose performance as Bud White in 1997’s L.A.Confidential will stand the test of time. Sadly, neither Crowe nor Guy Pearce were even nominated for their roles, which is unbelievable in hindsight, and the film got drowned in the Titanic tsunami, winning only for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress Kim Basinger. More  on one of my favorite films at another time.

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New Album! Christine Ohlman

All Hail The Queen!

Fifteen years removed from her debut album, The Hard Way, the Beehive Queen has not only recorded her strongest effort to date, but an album that should pepper several best-of lists in December. The songs on The Deep End draw as much upon gospel and urban doo-wop as they do blues and Americana, perhaps reaching the apex on the hypnotic title track.

Ohlman and her band Rebel Montez (now Michael Colbath, Larry Donahue, Cliff Goodwin) are rock-solid, and if you’ve not heard Ohlman’s gripping vocals before, I can’t totally blame you. Despite enough industry cred to fill multiple warehouses, she might best be known for being a long-time member of the Saturday Night Live band. Of course, you’d have to be attending the taping to hear her; seldom will you see any of the non-sax playing musicians get highlighted.

I first discovered her thirty-odd years ago when I was enamored with the cast and crew at Big Sound Records, whose albums featured stellar musicians like G.E. Smith, Jon Tiven, Mickey Curry, Ivan Julian, Roger C. Reale and Ohlman, among others. Producer extraordinaire Thomas “Doc” Cavalier had a golden ear for quality, and his work on Big Sound was the stamp of approval for me in the same way that Motown or Stiff were when in their prime. Sadly, just about all of that music is out of print.

I like all of her solo work, but this one really speaks to me. Ohlman suffered two big losses in her life recently – guitarist Eric Fletcher and Cavalier are no longer with us – and the ache resonates in her voice. Stellar guests like Dion, Eric Ambel and Al Anderson provide great support, and Ian Hunter producer Andy York continues his string of sympathetic collaborations with his artists. But Ohlman and her band had this one nailed from the jump.

Read my review of this album at PopMatters.

VIDEO: “Like Honey”

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