Tag Archives: G E Smith

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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40 Years On: Hall and Oates

They met forty-three years ago in a Philly club and they’re still making music together today. Arguably the biggest musical act in the world for a few years, they didn’t have to resort to giving themselves a pompous nickname; they let the charts do the talking. And while they might be flying a little lower and slower these days, Daryl Hall and John Oates have a hell of a legacy.

I’m not the typical Hall and Oates fan. While there was no denying their bouncy dance-pop hits of the early 80’s, I have a fondness for the more organic songs they started out with, like “Sara Smile”, “She’s Gone” and “When The Morning Comes”. I also have a soft spot for some of the more rocking songs that didn’t make big waves; “You Must Be Good For Something” and “Don’t Blame It On Love” being two of my favorites.

Some mistakenly see them as lightweights who got lucky by hitting their stride just as MTV was getting started (in fairness it did seem like their videos aired hourly. But their origins were Philly soul (well documented in the box set) and they ran the table from folk to rock to dance pop with equal success. When they were at the apex of their fame, they cut a great live album with Temptations David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks at the Apollo Theatre, where years before Hall occasionally worked as a backstage gofer.

They attracted excellent studio musicians, especially hot guitarists like Robert Fripp, Todd Rundgren and Rick Nielsen to pinch-hit on the sessions ; the list of their sidemen is a rock’n’roll All Star team. But the music really came alive thanks to a rock-solid touring band featuring future SNL bandleader G.E. Smith on guitar. (For those unfamiliar with Smith I highly recommend finding a copy of his first solo album In The World, a vastly underrated guitar pop/rock gem unlike anything else he has recorded.)

But on to the box set…

While not strictly chronological, the four CDs in this set do loosely follow Hall and Oates’s career path from a studio album perspective. Each CD finishes up with live recordings whose material matches up to the era, even if the date of the recording does not. It’s an interesting choice, perhaps to encourage the listener to take the journey rather than centering on the “live disc” or the one with most of the big hits. It’s also interesting to see how their organic sound formed and then was heavily influenced by producers Arif Mardin and David Foster before the duo felt comfortable enough to take the reins themselves.

Their studio and touring bands were always peppered with first-rate players, and early confidante Tommy Mottola (aka “Gino the Manager”, later the president of CBS and Sony) brilliantly moved them from a solid but struggling pop band to arguably the most popular recording artist of their time. Unlike some who sat back and took success for granted, Hall and Oates were savvy enough to learn how to thrive and survive in a fickle industry.

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters

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Blast From The Past: Roger C. Reale

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

Everybody has an album that sits atop their list of “records that need to be on CD”. Mine is Radioactive by Roger C. Reale and Rue Morgue. One of the great perks of working in a record store was the ability to crack open an interesting looking record and see what it was all about. For example, I thought the song titles on Slug Line were as off-the-wall as the horrible picture of the artist on the front cover, and that album wound up changing my life. (Thanks, John Hiatt!). I also found Herman Brood’s Cha Cha mistakenly filed in the disco section, but I can’t blame the clerk for that when the cover looked like this. Another lifelong partnership between an artist and my ears.

I had that same gobsmacking wallop when I slapped Radioactive on the turntable, but sadly it would turn out to be a one shot deal. It did lead me to grab everything I could get my hands on from Big Sound Records, where Jon Tiven and Van Duren and Doc Cavalier and Ivan Julian and G.E. Smith held court, but those are stories for another day…especially since G.E. Smith’s In The World might be #2 on that “needs to be on CD” list. Roger C. Reale did guest on a lot of albums and reappeared last decade to record an EP with his friends The Reducers and then started a more traditional bluesy rock band called The Manchurians. But none of them were like this.

So if you’re going to make one album before sliding off the radar screen, why not spike the ball and run? Clocking in at less than twenty-five minutes (!), Reale and his crack band (popster Hilly Michaels on drums and G.E. Smith – yes, that one – on guitar) just torched their way through crunhing rock originals and a couple of killer covers. Reale’s voice was as low as his bass and was powerful enough to saddle up this sonic typhoon of a trio and take it for a spin. Every track was roll-down-the-windows, sing along at the top of your lungs rock’n’roll. No wasted notes, nothing fancy, just clever lyrics and gigantic hooks propelled by a truly melodic power trio.

“Stop and Go”, “Pain Killer” and “Please Believe Me” were pop enough to be hits, while “Madonna’s Last Stand”, “Kill Me” and “High Society” could power a muscle car down a highway by themselves. And the covers were fabulous – a druggy, droning take on The Troggs’  “I Can’t Control Myself” and the most kinetic, manic cover of Chuck Berry’s “Dear Dad” you will ever hear in your life. Because it is so long out of print and never was issued on CD…I can point you here so you can join me in celebrating this masterpiece of an album. (Kudos to Angelo, who has obviously had the same epiphany.)

Thirty-one years later and I still play the shit out of this record, it’s absolutely timeless. I will play this record until the day I die and then pack it for the trip to the great beyond.

Roger C. Reale, you flat out rock!

The official Manchurians MySpace site and their CD BABY page.

An outdated Manchurians site – track list info, a couple of MP3 links and links to purchase the CDs.

An outdated Reducers/Roger C Reale page with info about the EP and one MP3.

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