Soul-rock vocalist/songwriter Christine Ohlman's first album of original material since 2003 and the death of her bandleader/partner Doc Cavalier could easily have been a sober, downbeat affair. Thankfully, although there are a few reflective references to him, most obviously the ballad "The Gone of You" (performed in both electric and a more intimate, eerie and poignant "after-hours" demo version), the album rocks as hard and intensely as anything the Beehive Queen has released, and that's saying lots. But it's the R&B-punched rockers that dominate this eclectic set and find Ohlman shifting from the Stonesy grind of "Love Make You do Stupid Things" and "Bring It with You When You Come," to the easy-rolling "Love You Right" and the acoustic folk-country "Girl Growing Up." Whatever she touches becomes soulful and passionate, even when she's taking the playful Mary Wells part and trading verses with Marshall Crenshaw (filling in for Marvin Gaye), on the old Motown fingersnapper "What's the Matter with You Baby." There are plenty of vocal references to Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Bramlett, Joan Osborne, Genya Ravan, Etta James, and of course Ronnie Spector, whose notorious big hair has inspired her own coif. But Ohlman always sounds like her born-to-be-bad self, belting out songs like the spitfire she is. Ian Hunter swings by to provide backup on the opening cowbell-driven grinder "There Ain't No Cure," although he's buried pretty low in the mix. When Ohlman sings "I'm gonna call you up in the middle of the night/I've got the midnight shakes, I just can't get right" she exudes the sassy mix of aggression, sexuality, and desire that those words convey. It's that swagger combined with tenderness that makes her so compelling, and transforms the post-Hurricane Katrina homage to New Orleans, "The Cradle Did Rock," into a touching tribute to a broken city. Echoes of the Rascals on "Born to Be Together" find the perfect balance of raw soul and gutsy rock that powers Ohlman's best material, most of it original. Horns pepper the thumping "Everybody Got a Heartache" and appear occasionally throughout the disc. But perhaps the most powerful and potent moment is the title track, a gospel-infused swamp ballad that seems autobiographical, especially when she sings that she's "hard to handle, the excitable kind/take off runnin' when I could've walked." Ohlman never flinches from the hard stuff and throughout the Deep End, she dives in like the classic soul kings and queens she idolizes.
The Deep End Review
by Hal Horowitz