Former 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.
The title track is a love song with a barely perceptible duet vocal from Ty. I like the low key verses and Anita’s emotional vocal, but the poppier chorus is less interesting. The up-tempo ‘Asking Too Much’ (which also has Ty on backing vocals) is also quite pop-influenced, but Anita certainly tackles this appeal for true love in her life with conviction, and there’s a line I like about a good song being her therapy. ‘Common Ground’ has Anita using the lower part of her vocal range and is another of the duller, poppier songs which sag down the central portion of the record with some annoying “Come on”s interjected. This one is addressed to a potential romantic interest, but closes with a cheerfully punchy instrumental outro which is pretty impressive.
A much better love song is ‘Better For You’, a subtle tender ballad about wanting to become worthy of a loved one by giving up all her bad habits, with faintly gospelly feel, which could easily be a hit for someone:
Bad habits I have a few, I’m gonna let them roll
Do my best to keep the faith ’cause your love gives me hope
The drink I’ve been drinking will be an empty glass
God, this cigarette I’m smoking, I pray will be my last
‘Cause I wanna be better for you, baby,
Gonna change some things that I do
I wanna live a good long life being in love with you
There’s gonna be a new day shining down on me
I’m gonna make you this promise, a promise I’ll keep
Yeah I wanna be better for you, baby, better for our love
I’m gonna make some changes with a little help from above
Another favourite is the opener ‘Dying To Live Again’, an excellent song about having trouble getting over someone with a nicely subdued delivery:
I look in the mirror and there’s no one there…
And it’s killing me
I’m dying to live again
Trying to get out of this awful state I’m in
Hoping and praying that soon my heart will mend
Cause I’m dying to live again
My friends they call me, try to fix me up
But I can’t find the strength inside to justify new love
It makes me angry, it makes me cry
But since you left me I’ve been fighting for my life
‘Nobody Takes The Train’ is not the Holly Dunn song, but an equally good Anita Cochran composition with a melancholy slightly folky feel. It has a copyright date of 1998 so may have been composed for her second album Anita. If so, I’m surprised it didn’t make the cut, because that album was not as good as her debut, and could have benefitted from this fine song. It opens and closes with a train whistle sound (credited as the Shelby 2 pm train, recorded live by Anita herself, with birdsong at the very start), and is a wistfully nostalgic look at change, inspired by the differences between childhood and adult visits to her mother’s birthplace in rural Kentucky:
I’ve been told the coalmines have been stripped of all their coal
And it breaks my heart to listen for the whistle blows no more
Nobody takes the train anymore
They’ve all found a different way
And the smile on the front of the engine now
Is turned to a frowny face
No railroad ties to walk upon
“Progress” is what they say
What I would give to live back then
Now nobody takes the train
‘Walkin’ Man (The Life Of Henry Cornwell)’ is a loving tribute to Anita’s former neighbour, an elderly Alabaman who lived in a barn in Nashville. It starts out interestingly, and is touching when it deals with his final illness, but gets a little repetitive at the end as Anita chants the title hook over and over, although the instrumentation is tasteful. Death (this time that of Anita’s niece) also inspired the delicately delivered closing track ‘Picture You In Heaven’ an affecting song about bereavement, which manages to avoid the traps of sentimentality or morbidness and is probably my favourite track:
How do you start the healing
When someone you love goes away?
It’s such a painful feeling
I take it day by day
I still feel your presence
You’re with me every day
How do I go on?
How do I stay strong?
This is the only way
I picture you in heaven
What a beautiful place to be
Walking by the river with old friends and family
I can see you smiling as the angels softly sing
I picture you in heaven waiting there for me
It is sung beautifully and with real feeling, with some tasteful strings.
What I like about this record is that the songs take center stage. Even where the production is more contemporary or pop-oriented, as it is on a number of tracks, it is never allowed to overwhelm the song or Anita’s voice. She sounds great throughout. This is contemporary country which has not lost touch with its country roots.
It is available from the label website and from iTunes.