Review and video by Joel Patterson
Christine Ohlman blossoms onstage, this slight and slender woman instantly commands the room with sheer bravado, soulful exuberance and a captivating style. Her voice is thoroughly authentic “soul singer” material and she should consider leaving it to science, because if you could clarify its nature and extract its secrets, you would have defined the essential “why” of why singing and music are such central and invigorating human pastimes. She so loses herself in the warbling and growling and crying out that being there, watching it happen, sends you into a trance.
The packed house at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs last Friday (April 18) were all one with the ouija board. You could call it a seance, yes… one devoted to the power and transcendent glory of rock ‘n’ roll. Her spitfire, smoking band Rebel Montez (bassist Michael Colbath, drummer Larry Donahue and guitarist Cliff Goodwin) creates the perfect searing, sizzling backdrop for her dramatics, in particular Goodwin is endlessly inventive with his rip-roaring solos – at times he seemed to be hanging onto his guitar for dear life.
The point of the evening was to celebrate several interlocking serendipities. Years ago, Ohlman chanced upon an old 45RPM record of an obscure ’60s r&b classic, “Cry Baby Cry” by Van & Titus. She felt as though she’d discovered some sacred holy relic, championed its virtues to anyone who would listen and eventually convinced Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Dion to sing it with her on her latest album, The Deep End.
George Brantley, a lead singer on the original record, was swept into the embrace of the Nippertown musical community last year, and last weekend he joined the quartet onstage for a bouncy, surging interpretation of this obscure but archetypal soul ditty. Meanwhile, artist Joseph Simone, with roots in the very dawn of Caffe Lena, has immortalized this convergence by painting stunning portraits of these two principals, the Knoxville-born and raised son of a preacher man and the Connecticut diva.
NOTE: Caffe Lena is in the process of undergoing a significant expansion. You will not recognize the old Black Box theater, now it looks like a hollowed-out warehouse. All the administrative and kitchen functions are headed that away, allowing for a major up-sizing of the performance area. Sitting in this drafty, empty stillness in the lull before the show with an un-named band member, I heard the story that all of the writers of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons were stoned all the time! I started to wonder if that didn’t explain a lot of things… but it was almost showtime, I had to get busy with my camera.
LIVE: Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez @ Shepard Park, 8/28/13 (Extended Version)
LIVE: Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez @ Shepard Park, 8/28/13
“Cry Baby Cry”: Christine Ohlman Meets George Brantley
LIVE: Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez @ Caffe Lena, 4/19/13
Five Firsts: Christine Ohlman of Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez