SNL's Christine Ohlman's new CD with Marshall Crenshaw
Christine Ohlman, a.k.a. “The Beehive Queen,” whose “day job” is that of the flashy, gritty long-time featured vocalist with the Saturday Night Live Band, has completed her first new album in five years, The Deep End, to be released by the Horizon Music Group through Selct-O-Hits on April 6, 2010.
Having won the respect of many fellow artists over the years, Ohlman recruited a stellar group of them to contribute to the new CD, including Marshall Crenshaw, Dion DiMucci and Ian Hunter as duet partners, as well as an all-star list of accompanists: G.E. Smith, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel from the Del-Lords, NRBQ veteran Big Al Anderson, Catherine Russell, the Asbury Juke Horns (Chris Anderson and Neal Pawley) and more.
Working in a swampy, guitar-driven style of contemporary rock/R&B, Ohlman and The Deep End co-producer Andy York (John Mellencamp) crafted 15 songs of life and love tempered by loss. It is Ohlman’s first album of new work since 2004; her recording hiatus followed the deaths of both long-time producer and mate Doc Cavalier and guitarist and founding member of Ohlman’s Rebel Montez band, Eric Fletcher. (The band presently includes Michael Colbath, bass; Cliff Goodwin, guitar; and Larry Donahue, drums.)
Christine is a musicologist of note of whom SNL bandleader Lenny Pickett, quoted in the New York Times, once said, “She knows the really good, obscure stuff.” The covers on The Deep End were lovingly chosen from her fabled record collection. She duets with Dion on the obscure Southern soul gem “Cry Baby Cry” and with Crenshaw on a Motown classic, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells’ “What’s the Matter With You Baby.” A third duet with Ian Hunter on Ohlman’s own “There Ain’t No Cure” celebrates her love of the music and language of the Delta behind a punked-out, soul-searing groove. It’s one of a group of eleven new originals that includes “The Gone of You” (a song of loss and longing so central to The Deep End’s theme that it appears twice: in a full-band version and in York’s evocative, loop-driven demo, dubbed “After Hours” both for Ohlman’s late-night vocal and its darkest-before-the-dawn sensibility); the Muscle Shoals-tinged ballad “Like Honey”; flat-out barnburners “Bring It With You When You Come” and “Born To Be Together”; and Ohlman’s post-Katrina lament “The Cradle Did Rock,” which will appear later this year alongside tracks by Irma Thomas, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint as a bonus cut to the reissue of Get You A Healin’, a CD benefitting the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic. The late Eric Fletcher is memorialized in the album’s third cover, a pristine reading of Link Wray’s “Walkin’ Down the Street Called Love.”
Ohlman and her previous recordings have impressed critics. The late Brownsville Station leader, bluesman and musicologist Cub Koda, writing in Stereo Review, believed, “Musical treasures like this don’t come along very often. Ohlman is the number one secret weapon in America’s gal-singin’ sweepstakes.” Charles M. Young in Playboy observed, “The first thing you notice is her tough, rousing, sexy voice.” Elmore magazine noted: “Few singers today are truly versed like Ohlman in all things soul. Tough and raw around the edges, she belts with a voice steeped in the heritage of this musical tradition.” All Music’s Hal Horowitz raved: “Ohlman never sings a tune halfway . . .she’s the leader of the pack.” And of the new album, critic/broadcaster Dave Marsh said, “There are so many ‘wow’ moments.”
In addition to her years on Saturday Night Live, Ohlman has an impressive resume. She sings on the theme song for 30 Rock; performed at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary bash at Madison Square Garden with George Harrison and Chrissie Hynde; performed at President Obama’s Inaugural Gala in Washington, D.C.; led Big Brother & the Holding Company in a Central Park tribute to Janis Joplin; worked on a musical with Cy Coleman, who compared her sense of timing to that of Peggy Lee; and frequently duets with blues legends Hubert Sumlin and Eddie Kirkland. She also edited Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham’s autobiography 2Stoned (Oldham described Ohlman’s Wicked Time as “a deep swamp theme to a movie Burt Reynolds wished he’d made’) and worked with Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Awards — all while continuing to torch clubs up and down the Eastern Seaboard with Rebel Montez. She counts among her friends Willie Nile, Syd Straw, Charlie Musselwhite, Hal Willner, David Johansen, Paul Thorn and Marshall Chess.
A Connecticut native and resident, Ohlman played with G.E. Smith in the Scratch Band in the 1970s, leading to her long association with Saturday Night Live. Her stint in fabled Studio 8H of Rockefeller Center includes the Sinead O’Connor and Ashley Simpson meltdowns (she was present for both) and the current season’s hilarious “Swine Fever” commercial parody, featuring a magnificently beehived Ohlman in full Dolly Parton regalia. She fondly recalls waltzing around 8-H with the late Chris Farley to Paul McCartney’s impromptu rehearsal performance of “Hey Jude.” With her long-time mate, the late Doc Cavalier producing, Ohlman released four records with Rebel Montez: The Hard Way (1995), the live Radio Queen (1997), Wicked Time (1999) and Strip (2003). In 2008 with current business partners Alex DeFelice and Vic Steffens at Horizon Music Group, she released a career compilation called Re-Hive. Yet she has remained under the radar — a best-kept secret. Until now.
Reflecting on The Deep End’s central theme of love both lost and found, Ohlman says, “Rosanne Cash and I were talking and she asked me if I’d written sad songs. It wasn’t until then that I realized I hadn’t. Ultimately, this album is about love and the courage to fall into it. Loss just informs you; it opens emotional doors that couldn’t possibly have opened before, no matter how much you thought you knew about it. I wrote about love — the newness of it, the glory of it, the loss of it, the sadness that can come from it, the wonder of it . . . the sweet bitterness of it.”