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
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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