Reviews and Suggestions Rock History

Deep Grooves: Carla Olson – Detroit ’85 Live and Unreleased and Carla Olson and Mick Taylor – Too Hot For Snakes (Collector’s Choice)

Roots rock fans rejoice! Another batch of Carla Olson albums have been re-released by the music fanatics at Collector’s Choice. For those who are unaware of Olson’s career and what her music is all about, think of her as a female Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen. Olson has a innate talent to writing songs based on the hopes, dreams, trials, travails, failures and successes of the everyday man and woman trying to survive in today’s world. Olson’s songs are not songs about limousine rides and the rich, these are songs about feelings and experiences everyone shares.That she manages to combine her proletariat poetry with fiery, Stones-like raunch and roll and create something completely her own despite her influences is a testament to her talent. What a shame it is Olson was never appreciated when she was at her recording peak. Thanks to Collector’s Choice reissuing most of Olson’s work (of which these two releases are some of her best) music fans once again get a chance to appreciate Olson’s talent and her knack for passionate rock and roll.

The first album chronologically in this set is Detroit ’85 Live and Unreleased. Recorded when Olson was touring along with her band the Textones to support her recently released album Midnight Mission, the album was recorded by the Westwood One Radio Network but never released until now. The lion’s share of the songs on this live set come from Midnight Mission which are mixed with a few covers and two songs sung by Textones drummer and former associate of Dwight Twilley, the late Phil Seymour. Listeners will immediately notice how tight the band is after listening to this set, with the only negative aspect being the saxophone player taking advantage of an unfortunate fad of the ’80’s: the overly-done sax solo, one of the few negative aspects of Bruce Springsteen’s rise to fame. Anyway, Olson shows here she’s a hell of a bandleader, with a band so tight and intuitive James Brown would be proud of her. Anyone who doubts this was recorded in the mid-80’s will find all the proof needed in Olson’s name-drop of actor(?) Judd Nelson. Though the music is fantastic, Olson’s satge patter is a little stilted, as if she either practiced what she was going to say because she knew the concert was being taped or maybe she was the kind of performer that did the same show every night. Listening to her ballsy, sweaty rock and roll I would guess the former, but you never know. Though the a perfect rock and roll show, Olson and her band were a helluva great show and this CD proves it.

The next album in Collector’s Choices reissues of Olson’s material is the live set Too Hot For Snakes, on which she performs with onetime Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. Legend has it that OIson grew up listening to the albums Taylor made with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (before he joined the Stones) and first met her guitar idol when asked to appear in Bob Dylan’s first video, for the song Sweetheart Like You. Because Taylor wasn’t available to be in the video, Dylan asked Olson to come in and mime his guitar parts. Eventually, the two corresponded as Olson’s subbing for Taylor served as an introduction and icebreaker for the two. Taylor became a fan and it was decided they would do a live recording together in the future. Musically, Olson and Taylor share the same sort of vision, so it is no wonder this album is filled with hard rocking, bluesy numbers. The album was recorded at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood in 1990 and features both Taylor and Olson at the top of their respective games, musically. By now Taylor had found his confidence after leaving the Stones and was guesting on a bunch of albums by various artists while Olson’s career was (at the time) picking up speed as she positioned herself as the female answer to Tom Petty or John Fogerty, her common-man lyrcial bent fusing with her love of Stonesy raunch and roll to form an original sound despite her adoration of her influences. Together, the two formed a formidable unit that oner wishes would have taken their talent into the studio instead of just leaving it on the stage for this recording, good as it is. Covering a mix of Stones songs (and covers made popular by the Stones) and songs written by Olson, the album is a guitar tour-de-force, with Taylor once again proving why he was once considered one of the best blues guitarists from England. This edition of the album adds another CD of songs recorded by Olson and Taylor, this time in the studio environment as he often geusted on her subsequent albums. It’s a nice addition to this rocking live set and one hopes they eventually try to re-ignite the flame burning brightly here and do an album together.

Fans of roots rock will love these albums. Filled with Stonesy swagger and impressive songs, Olson was at the very top of her game when she made these two releases and you will hear it almost as soon as the CD begins to play. That she has recently dedicated herself more to producing than performing her own work is a loss of which rock and roll may never recover. Some might say you can lose what you didn’t know you had, but I beg to differ. Though invisible to the public at large, Olson has influenced a bunch of rockers, and not just female artists. In her heyday in the mid-’80’s, she was right on the cuspo of fame and many people were paying attention to her. Her lack of mainstream success has a lot more to do with timing and luck than lack of talent. Those who re-discover her on these re-issues should recognize that in an instant. I am hoping she once again turns to recording her own songs instead of producing other artists. A comeback like that of Bonnie Raitt would not be out of line.