Tammy Cochran has just released the sort of mainstream country debut you figured Music Row didn't have in it anymore. Cochran has a stunning voice that's muscular and 21st-century twangy, though she has clearly gleaned wisdom from the old records of love and loss. Her country music is for folks who've done a bit of living, who haven't the resources for materialism or the time for nostalgia, who've been around the block enough times for their hearts to be broken by life itself -- as on the unexpectedly understated child-death song "Angels in Waiting." "They always knew they'd never grow old," she sings of her two brothers lost to cystic fibrosis. "Sometimes the body's weaker than the soul."
Cochran does occasionally fall victim to those twin villains of contemporary pop music, needlessly noisy arrangements and the ridiculous oversinging they encourage. Thanks to a little invention called the microphone, no singer since Jolson has needed to sacrifice human-scale emotion just to be heard. Yet by the end of some first verses here, Cochran is already pegging the needle at full lung power. Consequently, the potential intimacy afforded her by the recording studio -- and demanded by lines such as "I swear that I'm all right, but in the middle of the night, I cry" -- is sometimes nearly wasted.
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Still, there's no puzzle here that Cochran won't solve by woodshedding a bit longer with the singles of her namesake hero, Tammy Wynette. Indeed, her debut's hands-down keeper is "What I Learned From Loving You," on which Cochran and producer Blake Chancey (Dixie Chicks) collaborate with Wynette's longtime producer, Billy Sherrill. Surrounded by subtle yet dramatic pedal steel and piano and a brooding Bergen White string arrangement, Cochran travels a hard road from whisper to scream and back again. It's a journey that gives her all the room she needs to express the complexity of grown-up broken hearts.