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Life happens for Tammy Cochran

By Jeffrey B. Remz, November 2002

In this day and age when country singers sing simple tales of love won and lost - usually won since it's a lot safer - enter Tammy Cochran.

The attractive, blonde Ohioan received some acclaim last year with her self-titled debut and the single, "Angels in Waiting."

But don't expect Cochran to go soft with her sophomore album. Nope, the entire album goes into excruciating, sometimes painful detail through the perils of love for better and for worse.

In fact, Cochran, often compared to country greats Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, brings something to the table often found lacking in country music nowadays - the story song.

"I was pretty much trying to go the same path that I took with the first album - keeping the music very real and very relatable," says Cochran in a telephone interview from her Nashville home shortly after the disc was released. "The whole album kind of leads you through a whole relationship, and we really did not intend that to happen. I just trying to do what I've been doing - keep it very country, which is what I try to do anyway. People who get the album and listen to the songwriting on it, there's definitely pieces, parts where I bare my soul in my songwriting."

In one respect, the songs came out as a bit of a surprise to Cochran and producer Billy Joe Walker Jr.

"We didn't plan it at all and didn't really notice it until it was time to sequence, (putting the songs in order) in the order we wanted," she says. "We started looking at the songs and the context of each song, and Billy Joe and I looked at each other. We got one big circle of a relationship."

The decision was easy - go through the steps of a relationship in order.

For example, the lead off "Love Won't Let Me Go" tells about the beginning of a relationship where "my heart starts racin'/When I'm next to you/and love won't let me not go crazy when you come around."

In the follow-up "Wanted," the big, sturdy voiced Cochran, who doesn't fall prey to oversinging either in these emotion-laden songs, Cochran declares her desire for a long-term relationship.

But then in her own (one of four she wrote), "Go Slow," Cochran steps back a bit, cautioning "There's no need to rush right through it."

And then the story songs set in with "White Lies and Picket Fences" where a couple heads to Alabama only for the man to leave his girlfriend pregnant; the title track where dreams don't always come true, but that can be okay; and the very chilling "Dead of the NIght" about abuse and murder.

"Dead of the Night," one of two co-writes for Cochran with Patricia Gray, describes a nine-year-old girl's reaction to to domestic abuse by shooting her father.

Not exactly a pretty song.

"I was watching a Lifetime movie which I always do, and there was a terrible movie on about spousal abuse," says Cochran, not remembering the name of the movie. "Just coincidentally I was practicing my guitar and just kind of came up with this melody, and it was a really haunting melody. I didn't know where I was going to go with it. I was humming around and the 'dead of the night' came out of my mouth. I called Patricia and told her my idea. I played her the melody over the phone. She thought I was depressed and suicidal, and she was all concerned with me. 'Are you okay?' and all that kind of stuff. We had a good laugh and wrote the song two weeks later. I never really thought it would be cut (because of the subject matter)."

Did the label object?

"That song, everyone just loved it. We had one line in the song that we changed to make it a little bit less harsh (in the original version, the killing results from a switchblade knife, instead of a .45).

Interestingly enough, Cochran and Walker reached a block after recording half the album. She needed more songs.

In fact, they didn't even have the title track. "We were just about getting ready to do the last two songs. A song plugger (they pitch songs to artists to record) brought the song to the studio and played it for us. I was kind of burnt out from listening to songs. I said, 'Please'."

But good thing Cochran took a listen.

"It was just an immediate reaction. Everyone was blown away by it. We ended up dropping a song from the album to put 'Life Happened' in its place.'

In picking songs, Cochran says it is vital that she personally relate to the songs. So, being in her early 30s and having been through a brief marriage, she's not about to pick some puppy love material.

"If I write it, of course, I'm going to relate to it," she says. "That's also a key factor in picking my songs. I really believe a song is a little mini movie. An artist has to be an actress for 3 1/2 minutes. I try to pick songs that I can personally relate to. I don't have to conjure up fake emotion. I can just sing from my heart."

"When I'm listening to songs, and you listen to thousands of songs, you're kind of on auto pilot for awhile," she says. "Usually I listen to a verse and the chorus...I don't want to know who the songwriter is (to avoid any bias). If it has me intrigued by the end of the first chorus, then I'll continue listening."

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