My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Tammy Cochran

Occasional Hope’s Top 10 Singles of 2010

I’ve been moderately encouraged by the singles released this year compared with 2009, which seemed to offer a particularly disappointing crop. While there was plenty of dross around this year, there was some good music as well. Some of my picks of the year were even hits, with my personal #1 single hitting the top of the Billboard charts.

10. Stealing Angels – ‘He Better Be Dead’

This up-tempo rant about the guy who doesn’t call back after that promising romantic evening features the lead vocals of Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter Tayla. She’s not in the same league as the legend, but this is a fun, sassy single which introduced us to a talented trio. It didn’t make the Billboard top 40, but gained some airplay.

9. Tammy Cochran – ‘He Really Thinks He’s Got It’
This entertaining single from Tammy’s excellent independent 2009 album 30 Something And Single was released this year. Sadly (if unsurprisingly), with no label support it failed to chart, but it is a wry look at dating hell.

8. Joey + Rory – ‘That’s Important To Me’

A revival of a song from Joey Martin’s independent solo album has become the latest single for the husband and wife duo who emerged on 2008’s Can You Duet. It is being ignored by radio, but has a lovely clean production with Joey’s earnest vocals shining. She is one of my favorite female vocalists at the moment.

7. Martin Ramey – ‘Twisted’

This Curb duo’s only single to date seems to have sunk without a trace, but it made an impact on me if no one else. Brad Martin (formerly signed to Epic as a solo artist) and singer-songwriter John Ramey have pleasant but individually unremarkable voices, but their harmonies blend together very attractively, and are very reminiscent of 80s predecessors the O’Kanes. Their label affiliation means we may be waiting some time for more music, but I’ll be keen to hear more.

6. Jerrod Niemann – ‘What Do You Want’

The follow-up to Jerrod’s catchy pop cover and breakthrough hit ‘Lover, Lover’ was one of the highlights on Jerrod’s rather mixed album Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury – really good contemporary country. The plaintive lead vocal, Rachel Bradshaw’s pretty harmony, and organ melody seep into your consciousness as Jerrod tries to find out what his ex is trying to do by keeping on making contact. The single is still rising in the charts.

5. Sammy Kershaw – ‘Better than I Used To Be’

The title track of 90s hitmaker Sammy’s latest independent album (and its lead single) is a deeply honest song about a man who has let people down in the past, but is man enough to admit to his failings, and to turn his life around. Sadly his return to the recording studio was not met with commercial success, but this lovely, mature song (written by Brian Simpson and Ashley Gorley) stands up well with his past classics.

4. Jamey Johnson – ‘Playing The Part’

This downbeat look at the real cost of chasing fame in Hollywood only just squeezed into the top 40 of the Billboard country singles chart, but it is one of the most memorable singles of the year. It’s not quite as good as ‘High Cost Of Living’, which was my personal #1 single of 2009, but a very fine song nonetheless.

3. Miranda Lambert – ‘The House That Built Me’

Miranda’s star has risen steadily over the past five years, but 2009’s Revolution took her to a new level. I was less impressed than some by that album (mainly due to issues with the sound mixing), but this acoustic guitar-led smash is one of the best things on it. The sensitive ballad about returning to a childhood home to reminisce and regain the emotional wholeness of childhood was one of the biggest hits of the year, and the CMA Song (and Video) of the Year. It was written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.

2. Dierks Bentley – ‘Draw Me A Map’

Dierks Bentley made a rare brave artistic choice for a major label artist this year when he released an album incorporating bluegrass and other roots influences and asked radio to play the singles. The singles have been only modest successes, with this second single struggling to get out of the 30s, but they have at least received some exposure – and Dierks was nominated for three CMA awards on the strength of the album. It remains one of the most beautiful singles of the year, with Alison Krauss’s heavenly harmony and the haunting fiddle adding special touches.

1. Zac Brown Band – ‘Highway 20 Ride’

The Atlanta band with one foot in the Caribbean has become one of the most interesting acts in country music over the last couple of years, and they were rewarded this year with Grammy and CMA awards for Best New Artist, and an array of other nominations. They have become a staple at country radio, and have defied the latter’s fondness for things to stay the same by having each successive single represent a different side of their music – with five of the six singles to have completed their run to date hitting #1 on Billboard, and the other only just failing to do so. This is my favorite of their singles to date, and was their third #1 hit, reaching its peak in April this year. Written by lead singer Zac Brown with his frequent songwriting partner Wyatt Durette and inspired by the latter’s regular journeys taking a son to visit his mother, the downbeat ballad is my favorite single of the year. It embodies the essential truth common to all the greatest country songs; in this case portraying family breakdown and the impact of the son’s relationship with his father.

I reviewed it just after its release at the end of last year, and said then that if it was a hit it would go some way to restoring my faith in country radio. It was indeed a success, and overall this has been a better year for singles than 2009. So perhaps the tide is turning.

Classic Rewind: Tammy Cochran – ‘Angels In Waiting’

Decade in Review: Occasional Hope’s Top 50 Singles

Inevitably, anyone’s list of their favorite singles of the decade is going to be more mainstream-oriented than one of the best albums over the same period, just because independent artists are less likely to get their singles played on radio, and they tend to release fewer. My list doesn’t consist solely of hits, but a good proportion did get the success they deserved.

50. I Still Miss Someone - Martina McBride featuring Dolly Parton.
Martina recruited Dolly Parton to sing harmonies on her cover of this Johnny Cash classic on her Timeless album in 2006. It didn’t appeal to country radio, but it is a lovely recording.

49. How Do You Like Me Now?! - Toby Keith
The only song where Toby Keith managed to exercise his giant ego yet seem appealing at the same time. This #1 hit from 2000 is meanspirited but somehow irresistible. The video’s a bit heavy-handed, though.

48. I Hope You Dance - Lee Ann Womack
The enormous crossover success of Lee Ann’s signature song in 2000 set her on the wrong path musically for a while, but that doesn’t detract from the song itself, a lovely touching offering to LeeAnn’s daughter, featuring additional vocals from the Sons of the Desert.

47. You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This - Toby Keith
Toby is a very hit-and-miss artist for me, but he makes his second apearance in this list with my favorite of his singles, the tender realization on the dancefloor that a friend might be turning into a romantic interest. It was another #1 hit, this time in 2001. It has another terribly conceived video, though.

46. The Truth About Men - Tracy Byrd
Tracy Byrd recruited Blake Shelton, Andy Griggs and Montgomery Gentry to sing on this comic song about gender differences. Of course it’s not universally true – but it’s quite true enough to be funny. The single was a #13 hit in 2003, and is one of the few singles of recent years to inspire an answer song – Terri Clark’s ‘Girls Lie Too’, which was an even bigger hit the following year but has worn less well.

45. I Wish - Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee Messina’s glossy pop-country was very accomplished but not always to my taste. But I did love this relatively subdued ballad which appeared only on her Greatest Hits album in 2003, and reached #15 on Billboard, with its neat twist as the protagonist bravely wishes her ex best, before admitting, “I wish you still loved me”.

44. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger - Lee Ann Womack
This biting reproach to a cheating spouse, written by Buddy and Julie Miller, was the best moment on Lee Ann’s bigselling I Hope You Dance. It was the least successful single from it, however, only reaching #23 in 2001.

43. Long Black Train – Josh Turner
Josh is one of the few traditionally oriented artists currently on a major label, although he has often recorded material which is not quite worthy of his resonant deep voice. His debut single was a heavily allusive religious song about sin which, although it only got to #13 in 2003, really established him as a star.

42. One More Day – Diamond Rio
A #1 hit from 2001 about bereavement and longing for more time with the loved one who has been lost, this touching song has heartfelt vocals and lovely harmonies from one of the best groups in country music over the past 20 years.

41. Another Try – Josh Turner and Trisha Yearwood
A classy ballad about hoping for better luck in love from two of the best mainstream singers around, this reached #15 in 2008, but should have been a #1.

40. I Still Sing This Way – Daryle Singletary
In 2002 Daryle had a single out called ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’ (written by Max D Barnes) declaring himself a real country singer (“Mama whupped me with a George Jones record, that’s why I sing this way”). Five years later Daryle himself co-wrote this sequel, which I like even more, as he looks wryly at the music industry’s demands for glitz and glamor. He tells his manager he’s fine with a change of image – but he can’t change the way he sings.

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Year In Review: Occasional Hope’s Top Ten Albums of 2009

It hasn’t been a great year for mainstream releases, and none of my top 10 appeared on one of the major labels. There have been some fine albums released across the genre, although this year’s list is more bluegrass-oriented than would have been the case in years past.

10. Benefit Of Doubt – Pam Gadd
A joyful mixture of acoustic country and bluegrass, with duets with Dolly Parton and Marty Raybon. I reviewed it in March, and you can listen to the album on last.fm.

9. 30 Something And Single - Tammy Cochran
This album strikes an almost-perfect balance between contemporary and traditional country, with a sense of humor to boot. I reviewed it in the summer, and you can listen to clips and buy the album at CDBaby.

8. Bigger Hands - John Anderson
John was our Spotlight Artist in July, and his new album (which I reviewed then) found him in great voice with some interesting material, including the apocalyptic title track, and Anderson’s magisterial version of his co-write with John Rich, ‘Shuttin’ Detroit Down’.

7. Mister Purified Country - Shane Worley
There is still great traditional country music being made, and this fine independent CD in the Merle Haggard tradition is an excellent example -with some incisive criticism of the mainstream in the title track as an added bonus. I reviewed it in September, and you can listen to clips and buy the album at CDBaby.

6. When The Money’s All Gone - Jason Eady
Poetic singer-songwriter Jason Eady is more on the Americana side of things, with country, folk and blues elements. This album is full of interesting material, and repays close listening. I reviewed it in September, and you can listen to lips and buy at Amazon.

5. I’ll Take The Fifth - Dallas Wayne
With a voice as distinctive as John Anderson’s, I acclaimed this as my favorite of the year to date when I reviewed it back in March, and it hasn’t slipped that far down the rankings in the ensuing nine months. Buy it here.

4. The Reason That I Sing - Kim Williams
This delightful record is the one I’ve found myself singing along to more than any other this year. Songwriter Kim isn’t technically a great vocalist, but that really doesn’t matter, as he brings a warmth and honesty to his songs. I reviewed it in August, and you can now listen to it on last.fm.

3. Hillbilly Goddess - Alecia Nugent
Alecia has been recording for some years, but it was with this excellent album that she came of age artistically. Very much in the bluegrass/country zone, the youngest of the artists in my top 10 proved herself as a first-rate vocalist with some great material. I reviewed it in May, and you can hear clips and buy at Amazon.

2. Mountain Soul II - Patty Loveless
The only album on my top 10 list I didn’t review, but Razor X rightly called it a triumph of artistry in his review. Sometimes raw-sounding, always authentic and impressive, Patty cemented her credentials as one of the finest singers in country music in her sequel to her first bluegrass-inspired album Mountain Soul. My favorite tracks are the revival of the classic ‘Busted’, with the original coalmining lyrics heard for the first time; Jon Randall’s ‘You Burned The Bridge'; and the new version of ‘Feelings Of Love’. For clips, and to buy it, go to Amazon.

1. Taste Of The Truth - Gene Watson
Honey-voiced Texan Gene is a veteran of the music business, but he is still producing some of the best music out there. This year, in fact, he produced my #1 album, with the lovely Taste Of the Truth. I called it a masterclass in singing country music when I reviewed it in August, and you can hear it for yourself at last.fm.

Songs about adoption

Lisa as babyI was adopted as a baby, and because of that the subject has always drawn me in fiction. In fact I’ve read some really bad books and watched some bad TV purely because of the topic. One of the things I appreciate most in country music is the range of topics it covers, and I feel inspired to bring together some of the best songs I’ve heard over the years on the subject of adoption.

Actually, one area that seems a bit lacking is songs about the experience of the adopted child. One of the few that does start from that point is Jeff Bates’ autobiographical ‘Rainbow Man’, title track of his 2003 debut album. Although the song goes on to talk about race and the American melting pot, I definitely identify with Jeff’s questioning of his identity.

Moving on to adulthood, I love the story song ‘Cactus In A Coffee Can’, a delicately realized third-person tale of a plane encounter with a young woman who has been reunited with a drug-addict birth mother just before the mother’s death. I first heard it ten years ago from Jerry Kilgore on his Love Trip album on the short-lived Virgin country imprint, and it was beautifully revived by the excellent Melonie Cannon on her most recent album, And The Wheels Turn. You can check both versions out on last.fm. There’s also a version available by Steve Seskin, who co-wrote the song with Allen Shamblin, where his more fragile vocals add a certain vulnerability.

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Album Review: Anita Cochran – ‘Serenity’

SerenityFormer Warner Brothers artist Anita Cochran achieved one #1 hit, ‘What If I Said’, in a duet with Steve Wariner, in 1997. None of her solo singles came anywhere near the top of the charts, and it’s not as if her label didn’t persevere – they released two albums and nine singles over a seven year period. She is a talented musician and multi-instrumentalist, and has been touring as part of Terri Clark’s road band. She also produced an album for the unrelated Tammy Cochran in 2007. After several years’ silence on her own account, Anita re-emerges with a new album on her own Straybranch Records.

Her distinctive swooping voice sounds as good as ever, and this is an example of contemporary country which is not over-produced (an example her current boss might have profited from). Anita wrote every song and plays a long list of instruments on the album, including electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. She also arranged the strings (which feature talented Terri Clark bandmate Jenee Fleenor) which are used on several tracks, and produced the set with co-label-owner Mark Thompson.

The controversial former single ‘I Wanna Hear A Cheatin’ Song’ (the last time we heard from Anita) is included here (at least on the physical CD), although no doubt due to licensing issues, it is not available on the digital version on the album. It is actually an excellent song with a lyric about longing for more sad songs which is easy to relate to, as a heartbroken caller to a radio show appeals:

All I hear in this day and time
Are fairy tales and pretty words that rhyme
Everybody’s lovers, everybody’s friends
Same old thing over and over again

I wanna hear a cheatin’ song
About somebody done somebody wrong
A story that’s about my life
With a simple melody

Forget about the I love yous
They weren’t for the heartbroke fools
I wanna hear a cheatin’ song
Dedicated to me

The DJ agrees, and so does a listening Anita. So far, so good, but 2:50 into the song some tacked together segments from old Conway Twitty recordings are incorporated. I appreciate that it was done out of respect for Conway and his musical legacy, but this musical necrophilia makes me cringe. This could have been a standout track if Anita had only decided to rerecord the song solo (as she does with her hit ‘What If I Said’, which sounds great here, with a lovely emotion-infused vocal and some tasteful strings), or using a living partner. If no one was available, she could have used Ty Herndon, who helps out on a couple of the other tracks here, but who seems underused.

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Album Review: Billy Yates – ‘Bill’s Barber Shop’

billyyates7Billy Yates managed just one top 40 hit with ‘Flowers’ back in 1997, but since losing his major label deal he has released a string of records on his own MOD label, as well as forging a successful songwriting career.

Billy’s music is firmly rooted in mainstream traditional country. His voice is not exceptional, but it is good with a pleasing twang, and he is a very accomplished writer with a good ear for playful lyrics, writing or co-writing all the material on his latest effort. It opens promisingly with the plaintive honky tonking ‘Famous For Being Your Fool’, in which the protagonist, formerly happy in obscurity, finds himself a public laughing stock thanks to the woman he is hopelessly in thrall to.

Several songs tackle faltering relationships with an undercurrent of suspicion. The best of the songs tackling this theme is the slow ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’, written with Carson Chamberlain and Billy Ryan, as a husband vainly hopes he may be reading wrongly all the signs of a woman on her way out of the marriage:

“That note you left was hard to read
Through the teardrops in my eyes
I think it said you’d rather be alone
Tell me I’m wrong

You can say I’m crazy, that I’ve lost my mind
Tell me what I’m seeing is a sign I’m going blind
And those bags sitting right there by the back door
Lead me to believe that you don’t love me any more”

Well, yes. Equally desperate not to see what is in plain view to everyone else is the protagonist of ‘I Just Can’t See It’, written with Irene Kelley, who admits,

“If I look for trouble, then trouble is what I’ll find”

but claims he “can’t see a single cloud up in the sky”, before finally declaring:

My love is strong and that will never change
And that is why I look the other way.”

The protagonist of the neatly constructed ‘Get Ready, Get Set, She’s Gone’, is a little more prepared for heartbreak, as he engages in a conversation with his heart:

“Get ready, ’cause we’re about to break
Get set for the steps she’s about to take
Hold on, be steady,
One of us has to be strong
Get ready, get set, she’s gone.”

The mid-tempo ‘It Goes Without Sayin”, written with John Raney, is the most contemporary sounding song, and is probably my least favorite as Billy seems to be glossing over the heartbreak beneath the lyric. Much more convincing is the straightforward heartbreak of the one solo composition on the set, as the subdued protagonist tries to conceal ‘This Pain Inside Of Me’ from the woman who has caused it.

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Album Review: Tammy Cochran – ’30 Something And Single’

30Something and SingleFormer Epic recording artist Tammy Cochran, best known for her autobiographical top 10 hit ‘Angels In Waiting’ in 2001, is back with a new self-released album. Having experienced mainstream success and a stint with an independent label (Shanachie released her Where I Am album in 2006), she now claims to have no desire to be back on a major label, and is concentrating on making music she can be proud of. I think she has achieved that aim with 30 Something And Single, which is a very good example of modern country which is still rooted in tradition. It may be the best work Tammy has produced, and it is certainly her best since her debut.

Tammy has written or co-written all the material apart from a respectful cover of Tammy Wynette’s trademark song, ‘Stand By Your Man’, which is very faithful to the original. She does not quite have her namesake’s heartbreaking vocal quality, although her throaty soprano is capable of conveying real emotional depth on her own songs. These range from the deeply personal to some with a dry sense of humor which she has not previously shown on record.

The most personal song here is ‘Half The World Away (Shawn’s Song)’, which is about Tammy’s experience adopting a baby from Guatemala. Other country songs have been written about adoption, but this is the first I have heard on the international variety, and, rather like ‘Angels In Waiting’, which was written about Tammy’s brothers who died young (and gets a pointless remake here), it escapes accusations of sentimentality by its truthfulness. Addressed to her little boy, it is a tender expression of her feelings awaiting his arrival:
“You don’t have my eyes,
But in your eyes I can see my life
And all my dreams I thought were gone
Came true when you were born
You’re the answer to every prayer
You’re the reason God put me here
To love an angel from half the world away”.

Tammy does not forget her son’s birth mother:
When you’re grown I hope she’ll know
The man that you’ve become
And I will thank her once again
For letting you go and making my life complete
For bringing all the happiness
Without you I would have missed
‘Cause you’re her little angel too,
Half the world away”

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Emotional truth: sentiment and sentimentality in country music

Maschera Tragica (Mask of Tragedy)

Maschera Tragica (Mask of Tragedy)

Emotional truth is at the heart of almost all truly great country songs.  There is a very fine line in country music between the true tearjerkers, for which the genre is justly known, and the cloying sentimentality which outsiders sometimes ascribe to the music. Not, I have to admit, always completely unfairly – if the strings are too obvious, the emotion feels forced, and the song just doesn’t work.  But as I said, the line is a fine one, and a song’s impact depends on a number of factors.

Country music does not consist solely of confessional singer-songwriters, and we do not expect every song recorded to be a personal slice of the author’s life – certainly not when it comes to a love song or cheating song. However, when we are aware a song draws on its writer’s experiences, I think we are more disposed to respond to them as “real”.  If a love song is said to be for its writer’s spouse, and the marriage subsequently breaks up (as, for instance, with Vince Gill’s ‘I Still Believe In You’, written for first wife Janis Gill before he left her for another woman), the song may suddenly seem emotionally dishonest in retrospect, purely because the listener has bought into the story behind the song.  In the case of a song specifically designed to elicit an emotional response, this authenticity is all the more important.

There is a line in the Mavericks’ song ‘Children’ which refers to “a life where everything’s real and nothing is true”.  I do not believe a song has to be factually real to convey emotional truth, but it does help to dispel accusations of sentimentality.  An example of this would be Tammy Cochran’s ‘Angels In Waiting’.  This tribute to Tammy’s two brothers, who both died young as a result of cystic fibrosis, would be cloying if the song were an invented one.  It probably wouldn’t even work if it were sung by an unconnected singer, even though it was written from the heart and is a well-constructed song. Here it is almost completely the fact that it is the true story of the person singing it which carries the emotional force of the song.

Another instance is Jimmy Wayne, whose first self-titled album was filled with intensely emotional songs inspired by his childhood. These songs — the hits ‘I Love You This Much’ and ‘Paper Angels’, and other less-known numbers on similar themes — would undoubtedly fall in the emotionally manipulative category if they were not genuinely based on Jimmy’s appalling childhood in foster-care. That lends an emotional truth which is not found in the same singer’s love songs which are forgettable.  American Idol finalist Kellie Pickler is frankly not a very good singer, but her song ‘I Wonder’, about the mother who abandoned her in childhood, has an emotional resonance, which is lacking in her other material, and is genuinely moving — as long as you know the story behind it is true.  I don’t think it stands on its own merits.

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