Kicking The Beehive - Susan Werner
It is perhaps Susan Werner's most striking asset that she continually presents the listener with a shifting set of absorbing paradoxes. In a perpetually light and breezy singing style - a combination of Doris Day, Toni Tenille, occasionally Chrissie Hind (no, really!), and a parade of very pleasant afternoon chanteuses - lies hidden a wealth of far more complicated, though sometimes very simple and convicted, modes of thinking and turns of attitude that I can quite confidently predict will force the listener to reexamine a textbookful of indoctrinated thought and behavior patterns. Am I accusing Ms. Werner of some sort of psychological ploy, a secret mind control plot of subterranean proportions? Oh hell no, Kicking the Beehive is exactly what the title suggests: an upsetting of traditions and norms for a more heartfelt embrasure of possibilities that should be what any elevated but grounded culture would take for granted. Ours doesn't. The psychology can follow after if it so desires, the living is what matters.
Werner slides lithely between styles, which only enhances the puzzled look you'll find yourself wearing as the CD progresses. Hey, wait a minute, didn't she start out as a swingin' cowgirl in an Andrews Sisters ditty ("Doctor Doctor")? So, what's with the lounge cabaret interlude in "My Different Son?" Then, whoa!, how'd this folk-cum-soul mellow rocker sneak in, a song that turns up the heat in instinctual desire? And…and…hmmm, "Doctor Doctor" is a pine-away for a female heart-throb while no other song is directly male-female oriented from the writer's own viewpoint. In fact, "Red Dress" seems to indicate a rather unusual state of affairs:
I got my red dress on, honey
Got my red dress on for you
Welcome home now, baby
And you're welcome to me too
...'Cause it's like you love to tell me -
My red dress fits you too
What does it all mean? Werner, you'll quickly but subtly find, is extremely clever in lyrics fraught with innuendo, suggestions, abstract metaphor, and inversions, sometimes touching and thought-provoking, sometimes downright naughty and invitational, always never what your television and Sunday School lessons tell you the real world is about. Gender, however, is just one terrain of possibility, and she hits many, including the enigma of what we usually call the outsider ("My Different Son"). Rodney Crowell produced Beehive and guests on one cut while Vince Gill, Keb Mo', and Trina Hamlin sit in among a nonet of studio staples, the kind of backing musicians any self-respecting artist secretly dreams about. However, it's significant that the most haunting track, "The Last Words of Bonnie Parker", boasts no sit-ins, just her and the band drowning in a poignant lagoon of the title character's strange desire for the infamous criminal Clyde Parker.
In a sentence, then, Susan Werner's music isn't something you just listen to and enjoy, it's a state of mind one must think about as well... for quite some time after the notes and melodies die down. Entertainment is momentary, valid and worthy for what it crafts to engage and divert, but art is what lingers and grows, calls the mind back, schools us in ourselves. Listen to Kicking the Beehive and you'll see the difference.