Tag Archives: Christine Ohlman

Taking My Life Back

Bless me father,  for I have sinned, it has been over three months since my last legitimate blog post…

You don’t have any idea how many times I started to write this post in my head over the past couple of months, only to be sidetracked by schedule, or exhaustion, or – sadly – the lack of confidence and willpower. Running this blogzine had been, for the better part of three years, a daily joy. But much like many of my favorite things, it fell off the pile as the necessity to work 75-80 hour weeks took its toll. Missed that fall softball season. Favorite TV shows were DVR’d and hastily burned to DVD to make room for other unwatched programs. Albums piled up…think about that, I wasn’t prioritizing music. There were mornings when I didn’t want to slap that comedy CD in the car because I knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy it.

That is just fucking wrong.

But let me first put things in proper perspective. Nothing is really wrong outside the fact that my life became monopolized by my responsibilities at work. I’m healthy, I’m financially stable, I have friends and family and a blessed life compared to so many who have real problems. I do not pretend for a moment that my worst day in the past six months was anything more than me feeling pressure, exhaustion and frustration with something which I could have terminated at any second with two simple words: “I quit“.

It’s hard to overcome an addiction because you are so deep into it that you lose the objective perspective. You no longer see the whole, you only see the next move. Not to compare my experience to an addiction – even the word workaholic infers complicit behavior – but it takes an intervention to slap reality in your face long enough for you to distance yourself and see objectively again. And in my case the intervention came in two parts – an intimate musical performance and a dose of birthday guilt.

Christine Ohlman, a/k/a The Beehive Queen, is an amazing woman. A musicologist par excellence, she runs rings around me when it comes to the deep web of musical history, ane even a brief chat with her is an educational experience. But I recently saw her perform in a small bar in Rochester, a converted house called Abilene’s which was packed like a sardine can. No stage, the band sequestered in what would have been a living room, amps likely on “3” to keep the plaster from falling upon us like raindrops. I was so close I could have adjusted the monitors, and I watched her slowly weave her way through a set of gems – each one accompanied by an anecdote – and I was awash in soulful, penetrating beauty. I was energized by rock, heartbroken by blues, and warmed by the infectious nature of a true artist channeling her soul. I knew at that moment that I had to take my life back, that every precious day that I continue to put aside the things I truly love was another day wasted.

I also have a holiday-time birthday, which combined with seasonal affectation disorder…well, let’s just say it makes for an interesting experience. For the past several years, I have spent the better part of my birthday watching concerts, comedy shows and music documentaries, and this year was no exception. This time, the introspection of the day was combined with a rebirth of passion, as if the artists on the large screen were saying “hey dumbass…maybe if you made time for this every day you wouldn’t be so miserable?” With the new year a week away, it looked like I finally had a resolution with teeth to slot next to the old standards “lose a few pounds” and “work out more”. And when my older daughter caught me off-guard by telling me she had been checking my page weekly only to be disappointed, that sealed the deal.

It’s not like I was in a coma. I did listen to a lot of music and made my list in time for the Village Voice Pazz&Jop deadline; I do have my Best of 2011 drafts for comedy albums and DVDs in their final whittling stages, and I did jot down some drafts that will show up soon as reviews and editorials. But I missed some events I normally relish, like the recent award nominations. And tragedies – I should have posted the day Patrice O’Neal died; he played a club in town not long before and the news broke my heart. But I’ll add those thoughts when reviewing his posthumous CD, and you’ll see his brilliant DVD (Elephant In The Room) on that year-end list.

A real doctor doesn’t promise you anything; they merely give you good advice. So I won’t promise you a daily dose – not an unbroken string, anyway –  but I’ll do the best I can to be here as often as possible. I even have a plan.

As for the recommendations, those will continue to be well-intentioned but optional. I’ve got my hands full taking my own life back, thanks.

Happy New Year, everyone. I missed you, too.

It's a new dawn, and a beautiful new road lies before me. Hope to see you often along the way...

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Village Voice Pazz & Jop

One of my favorite things every year is contributing my “best of” list to the prestigious Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll, a compilation of the opinions of seven hundred music critics. I consider it an honor as well, and I’m happy that the albums I vote for at least get a little bit more attention. I don’t keep track of favorite songs closely enough to always do the singles; last year I figured that Ce Lo Green’s “Fuck You” was so dominant that any of my other nominations would concede defeat, so that’s exactly what I wrote down when I submitted my ballot. And the song, as expected, took the top prize.

What did surprise me was how much of my ballot placed me on a deserted island. While I thought these artists released incredible efforts, in most cases I was the sole person to nominate them. I’m well aware that my preference for powerpop, glam, rock and blues doesn’t endear me to a world of rap, shoegazing indie pop and ludicrous Autotune warriors. But where are my brothers and sisters who celebrate this music, despite its low profile?

Each year a brilliant data analyst named Glenn McDonald produces some amazing metrics regarding voter centricity – whose ballots were the most consistent with the results, and whose were in the stratosphere. According to the 2010 report, I’ll need an oxygen mask and a very long cord.

 Here is my top ten, in order, along with the number of votes each album received in the poll. If that number is one, that means I am the only Pazz&Jop critic who voted for it.

Len Price 3 – Pictures (one)

Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez – The Deep End (one)

The Jim Jones Revue – Burning Your House Down (two)

The 88 – The 88 (two)

The Grip Weeds – Strange Change Machine (two)

The Mother Truckers – Van Tour (one)

The Sights – Most of What Follows Is True (four)

Edward O’Connell – Our Little Secret (one)

The Greenhornes – Four Stars (one)

Farrah – Farrah (one)

Now some of these I can understand. Farrah is all but unknown in the USA; O’Connell is a DC musician making a debut album that’s self-promoted and self-distributed. But Ohlman and The Greenhornes have history and a strong legacy; Len Price 3  and The Grip Weeds were getting a massive push from Little Steven and The 88 are well-known from their film and TV work.

WTF, people?

Click here for a trove of comments and essays along with the final results.

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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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Mixtape: I’ll Be You

 

Back when I had that kind of time, I participated in a monthly tape swap, and for a time I had to dub these puppies in real speed. When we finally got to the CD stage and I could burn a disc at 2x I thought I was in heaven. What used to be a serious committment – the group was usually 35-40 people, so imagine the time and money involved – now can be done dirt cheap and at lightning speed. (I still participate in one of these groups twelve years running, although we’re down to one or two trades a year.) 

I used to make the cassette art by hand; sometimes a drawing and other times a cut-and-paste job, then type and shrink the set list to fit on the inside flap and print them off on colored paper…cut them along the outline…fold and insert into the J-Card slot on every one. Like I said, I had that kind of time. If I find the original art for this one I’ll upload it someday, but I remember it was a variation on a Powerpoint silhouette image of a man holding a mirror. 

I love tribute records, so this mixtape (from March 1997) was a tribute to tributes. It’s a great set and these covers are well worth seeking out. Now I have to find the actual tape, because just reading these names has me jazzed. 

And I still miss Material Issue.

  

you be me for awhile and….I’LL BE YOU

SIDE ONE
Dance Dance Dance Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom (Handsome Dick and a couple of Dictators) pay homage to Brian Wilson
Pictures Of Lily The ‘oo, done with great passion by that great sideman Ian McLagan and the Bump Band
She’s Got Everything The Droogs, Aussies yet, service Mr.Davies’ classic well. Can’t believe there aren’t more great Kinks covers.
Time Has Come Today Willy (Mink) DeVille from last years fab “Loup Garou” record. This Chambers Brothers song still rules!
Pictures Of Matchstick Men Status Quo song covered by the pre-Cracker Lowery in the late, great Camper Van Beethoven. Respectful yet cool!
Charlot Choogle Would have picked a better T-Rex cover if I could have but Sky Blue nailed the Bolanisms better than anyone else did.
Sweet Hitchhiker The fabulous DM3 (wow, I’ve already been to Australia twice in seven songs!) absolutely rip this one up! Go Don!
Mr. Spaceman Miracle Legion from another spotty tribute disc. For all you who remember the Byrds as electric Dylan, try this instead.
I Can’t Let Go Still the best tribute disc ever made, eggBert’s “Sing Hollies In Reverse” featured wall to wall greatness like this Continental Drifters cut.
My Minds Eye Ah, the Small Faces. Northern Uproar did yeoman service on last year’s tribute. A must-have for all true pop fans!
S-L-U-T The Woods, America’s Rockpile, nail this Todd tune. I will not rest until the name Jack Cornell is known far and wide.
Handyman True Story: Frank thought they were cutting “Candyman” for a Sammy Davis tribute. Nah…he loves Otis Blackwell too!
Sweets For My Sweet Doc Pomus gets the Brian Wilson post-sandbox/Landry treatment. And Mike Love is an asshole.
Love Is All Around Christine Ohlman is recording again! If you remember Big Sound Records or Dusty Springfield, Trogg out with this!
And Your Bird Can Sing Weller and company grew tired of “The Jam is just aping The Who” rumors. So they aped the Beatles instead.
SIDE TWO
I’m Not In Love Chrissie and the Pretenders snapped out two covers for movies/TV – this 10cc track and “Angel In The Morning”
Town Without Pity Gene Pitney covered by Steppenwolf’s John Kay on heroin. Naah..it’s the wonderful Thin White Rope from “Spoor”
Daydream Believer The Monkees tribute is way cool, including this John Stewart song ably harmonized by Man Size Job? Who? Me neither.
Run To Me If there were any doubts that Material Issue could do it all, this will silence them. Haunting BeeGeeutiful song. RIP Jim.
Hard Luck Woman The Kiss tribute is pretty funny, and I gotta admit that when I realized this was THE Garth Brooks I almost had a seizure.
It’s The Little Things And you thought Sonny Bono couldn’t write hooks. He did work with Spector, y’know, so bow down for The Skeletons.
Listen To Her Heart Tom Petty as seen through the eyes of Truck Stop Love, produced at Ardent by some guy named Jody Stephens.
Don’t Want To Say Goodbye Last year the Raspberries tribute came out, chock full of great versions, few better than this homage by The Flashcubes.
Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, … Wow that’s a long title! Believe it or not, this is The Records from a free EP that came with the first run of their LP.
Build Me Up Buttercup David Johansen, post-Dolls and pre-Buster P. David always kicked ass live and paid props to great 60’s soul music.
When Something Is Wrong With My Baby Wow – Sam and Dave voiced by the immortal Herman Brood, who truly is a rock and roll junkie. Live track.
Back Of A Car When you hear this song now you wonder how Big Star wasn’t huge then. This is The Loud Family – same comment.
Earn Enough For Us Freedy Johnston does XTC (who appeared on their own tribute record in disguise!). Love the pedal steel!
No Matter What Closing the set with a song by “the next Beatles” (Badfinger) done by “the next Beatles” (The Knack). Oasis my ass.

As always, play loud, play often.

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Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to Red Skelton. A great clown and entertainer who brought much joy in my childhood. I’m sure you no longer have to close with “and may God Bless“, since that’s a moot point where you undoubtedly are now.

Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela. A small payback for your years of incarceration, but first the World Cup; now your countryman wins the British Open on your birthday. And three words: Morgan Freeman’s voice.

Happy Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson. Thanks for the wonderful essays and books, for writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in time for me to read it when I needed it, for living a lifestyle that makes Jack Nicholson’s look suburban and docile. Plus you went out with a bang.

Happy Birthday, Dion DiMucci. I still get chills listening to “The Wanderer” or “Abraham, Martin and John” and your duet with Christine Ohlman on her new album is tremendous. Keep playing, sir!

Happy Birthday, Ian Stewart. I don’t know how anyone gets screwed over as badly as you did and still remains supportive of those friends, but in my mind you will always be an official member of The Rolling Stones.

And Happy Birthday to unlucky gangster Machine Gun Kelly (because this was also the day he was killed – some party that must have been!). And speaking of running afoul of the authorities and suffering the consequences – and no, that was not the original title of “I Fought The Law” – Bobby Fuller was killed on this day in 1966. I don’t think it was the law that he fought that night, nor do I think he killed himself (really – who drinks gasoline?)

Today also marks forty-one years since Chappaquiddick ended one person’s life and another person’s Presidential aspirations, but both people who knew the truth are now gone forever.

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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.

***

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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