Christine Ohlman:The Deep End insists on telling the truth until it alters perceptions of love and loss and how it all works, especially when it falls apart so tragically as that which produced this work of art.

In The Invisible Country Far Away
By David McGee

And the voices in the waves are always whispering to Florence, in their ceaseless murmuring, of love—of love, eternal and illimitable, not bounded by the confines of the world or by the end of time, but ranging still, beyond the sea, beyond the sky, to the invisible country far away!–from Dombey & Son, Chapter LVII, by Charles Dickens

Christine Ohlman
Horizon Music Group

You know Christine Ohlman.

Let us clarify. There is more than one way to know Christine Ohlman. Some will know her as one of the veteran stalwart musicians in the Saturday Night Live band, always memorable when she gets a turn in the spotlight to deliver some gritty rock or blue-eyed soul flavor to the proceedings.

On the other hand, those who may be unfamiliar with the artist in her own right will know her if they know Credence, if they know Bruce, if they know the Stones in their prime, if they know Bonnie Raitt at her earthiest, if they’ve ever been entranced by the magic emanating from Memphis and Muscle Shoals, if they’ve ever been mesmerized by the depthless soul of Dusty Springfield. Yes, you will know her if you know these touchstones from whence her art emanates before she recasts it in her own impassioned voice as writer/singer/guitarist (and let us note right now how few have made as much of the tremelo acoustic guitar’s sonic and atmospheric possibilities as Ohlman does here).

Christine Ohlman and her band, Rebel Montez, perform the title song of her new album, The Deep End, at Café 9, New Haven, CT, March 21, 2009. Cliff Goodwin on lead guitar, Michael Colbath on bass, Larry Donahue on drums.

The Deep End both marks her return to recording after a near-six-year absence and a revitalization of Ohlman’s art and her heart after the devastating deaths of her partner and producer Doc Cavalier and of Eric Fletcher, guitarist and founding member of her Rebel Montez band. There are so many moments when she seems fully and powerfully resurrected that various reviewers are sure to cite their own personal favorites on this exceptional testimony in song as being revelatory of Ohlman’s reconstituted vigor for life and love. Surely, though, we can all agree that the second song, the stirring country-soul ballad, “The Deep End,” with its gospel overtones and shimmering soundscape supporting a bold pronouncement of someone opening herself up to love again, fully and without qualification, yea, verily, we can agree on her personal testimony standing as a mission statement for the time at hand—“I will jump right in to the deep end of the river of love, love, love”—she repeats “love” thrice, with a throaty urgency, like an incantation—“I got to be satisfied, I want to be baptized/Down in the deep end.” No sooner does this end than do we follow Ohlman deeper into the flame on a beauty of a southern soul ballad, “Like Honey,” complete with Stax-style horns and a thick, aching, B-3-buttressed ambiance infusing a grand hurt into Ohlman’s perfervid avowals of lust and longing for an absent lover in a performance of such deep sensuality as to evoke memories of Otis Redding’s most open-hearted pleadings.

Christine Ohlman with the Mohegan Sun All-Stars, performs Otis Redding’s ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ at the Shaboo Reunion Concert, Willimantic, CT, August 2007

But when the yearning becomes so great, so fierce, so driven it can barely be expressed in words, Ohlman finds the words elsewhere, namelyin the stately, hymn-like processional that is “Cry Baby Cry”—no, not the Beatles’ song, but rather a near-forgotten 1968 soul gem by the completely forgotten due of Van & Titus, who recorded it as one of two singles they cut for the ELF label, headed by the song’s writer, Buzz Cason, whose many notable achievements include penning one of the ‘60s greatest singles, “Everlasting Love,” and founding Creative Workshop, which became one of Nashville’s most important recording studios after its 1970 launch (his MySpace page also claims he is “the only known songwriter to have songs recorded by The Beatles, U2, Pearl Jam, Gloria Estafan and Jimmy Buffett”). Ohlman retains the original single’s magnificent arrangement, including the grand organ intro and the surging horns, but enlist for a second, supporting voice (assuming neither Van nor Titus was available to replicate the original) delivering not only harmonies but the heartfelt spoken entreaty to his wayward gal, none other than Dion DiMucci, whose swagger is an engaging mix of bravado and supplication, a perfectly calibrated performance by a man who knows whereof he speaks when it comes to wanderers. Ohlman seems to have a thing for men begging her to come back, seeing as how she follows “Cry Baby Cry” with a funky duet with Marshall Crenshaw on the 1964 Marvin Gaye-Mary Wells single, “What’s the Matter With You Baby?” Crenshaw’s voice is aging well, with an appealing rough edge, while retaining its smooth flavor when in crooning mode, and he plays the abject suitor beautifully in sparring with the sassy Oldham as the horns pump and Andy York checks in with some electrifying guitar punctuations. York has a lovely moment later, on the sprightly country ballad, “Girl Growing Up,” a warm and thoughtful chronicle of a woman’s passage from childhood to adulthood, in which his cascading finger-picked acoustic guitar figures are lent added atmospheric heft by Crenshaw’s baritone guitar. As good a soul and rock singer as she is, Ohlman has a formidable country-blues thing going for her as well, but she may be, like Elizabeth Cook (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), too real for a mainstream infatuated with Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

But no one wants to lose Christine Ohlman to country. Not when she can bring the blues ‘n’ soul as she does on the album’s defining text, “The Gone of You,” an explicit litany of the sensual pleasures haunting her memory (“I miss the skin of you, the near of you…the make-love of you, the true of you…the all-the-way-my-heart-through of you…”) in the wake of her beloved’s crossing over. The song is here in two versions: the first, a controlled charge of rock ‘n’ roll, deliberate, measured, multi-textured and grand in scale with electric, acoustic and baritone guitars, plus drums, harmonium and chamberlin; the second, the album’s post-script, subtitled “After Hours,” a darker, denser, echoing cri de couer, more ornate in feel with York programming loops and supplying “technical voodoo” to fan the flame of Ohlman’s Dusty In Memphis-like importuning. In the end you’re left with one immutable fact about The Deep End: It tells the truth, and keeps on telling the truth—it insists on telling the truth—until it alters perceptions of love and loss and how it all works, especially when it ends so tragically as that which produced this work of art. On the horizon of the invisible country, where love is eternal and illimitable, the sun rises, healing and transcendent.

The Deep End is available at


Once Lost, Now Found

Christine Ohlman revives Van & Titus’s obscure soul gem, ‘Cry Baby Cry’

Not much is known about the soul duo Van & Titus. They labored in the epic shadow of Sam & Dave in the ‘60s, never gaining any traction despite cutting two fine, Buzz Cason-produced singles for Cason’s ELF label in 1968, “I Need Your Loving”/We’d Better Stop” (ELF 90010) and “Cry Baby Cry”/”The Vulture” (ELF 90016). On her superb new album, The Deep End, Christine Ohlman resurrects Van & Titus’s “Cry Baby Cry” in a powerful performance with Dion DiMucci supplying an engaging mix of bravado and supplication in pleading for Ohlman to come back to him. Efforts to reach Cason for more background on Van & Titus were unavailing. If we find out more, we’ll pass it on in future issues.

Van & Titus, ‘Cry Baby Cry,’ written by Buzz Cason, released on Cason’s ELF label in 1968. Cason also produced the session, along with Mack Gayden (who plays guitar on the track) and Charles Chalmers.

Van & Titus, ‘The Vulture.’ This is the B side of ELF single 90016, with ‘Cry Baby Cry’ on the flip. Also produced by Cason-Gayden-Chalmers.

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