California-born, Nashville-based, singer/songwriter Cam (aka Camaron Ochs) has a voice so strong, so confident, so full, it’s a surprise that any microphones survive it. Let’s see if Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace fares as well with her return there on Nov. 30.
Her stop here is part of her “Best Coast Tour,” where she will be returning to select West Coast venues. She will be performing songs off of her 2015 debut album, “Untamed,” and material from her upcoming 2018 release, including her latest single, “Diane.”
The name of the tour is a subtle nod to the chanteuse’s home state to which she still feels a kinship. When I mentioned that Nashville must be a bit different from California, well, you can take the girl outta California …
“It is very different (living in Nashville). I’m really excited to be coming back to the West Coast. For one, it’s really wonderful to be back around the crowd that sort-of helped raise me come up, you know? All of my first shows, they watched.”
“Also, there’s just a great culture about California and the entire West Coast. I think that’s where I feel the most at home. That’s where I feel people resonate the most with my music because I think they’re hearing me coming from the same spot that they come from, culturally.”
When I said her voice is a knockout, I wasn’t kidding — it’s evident at first listen, reminding me of Dolly Parton at her most sweetly powerful. But Cam's voice isn't continuously "set to 11"; she has stunning control and can easily go for deep nuance and delicate effect. The best example of this is on her Grammy-nominated (for best country solo performance) platinum-selling single “Burning House,” off of "Untamed."
In it, she sings of a dream she had of going up in flames with the ex-boyfriend she wronged. Her vocals are wistful and serene yet conflicted between the knowledge that she was the one to blame for the split and the acknowledgement that the only way back into his arms is when there is no way out of a burning house.
“Diane,” is about a different sort of house on fire altogether, albeit metaphorically, and this time she isn’t the one that lit the spark. The song is about a woman telling the titular subject about the affair she'd been unwittingly having with her husband ("Oh, I promise I didn't know he was your man; I would have noticed a gold wedding band ...").
The song’s choruses thump with an upbeat Buddy Holly gallop; driving through one gorgeous vocal harmony after another and stacking voices both high and low. Where Cam's voice on "Burning House" was subtle, here she's belting it out with a repentant fierceness. Coming clean rarely sounds so exhilarating.
A lot of ink from magazines ranging from People to Rolling Stone has been spent calling "Diane" Cam's response to Parton’s 1973 "please don't take my man" classic, "Jolene.” The singer maintains that that was her intention after all. But there’s another 1970s country song that’s a spiritual sibling to these two songs and, in a way, bridges them together: Kenny Rogers' 1977 single, “Lucille.”
For those unfamiliar with the song, “Lucille” tells the story of a man courting — and being courted by — a married woman in a bar in Toledo, Ohio. Eventually, the husband, a mountain of a man with big, calloused hands, comes up to the couple.
But the husband isn’t angry: He’s defeated. Broken-hearted. It seems she left him and four kids high-and-dry right in the middle of harvest. The dejected husband leaves the man and the apathetic wife to go back to the homestead while the “other man” is left wondering what to do.
In-between these three tales of hurt, we see the ramifications of selfishness and redemption in the face of infidelity as well as the intersect between conscience, heartbreak and conflicted nobility.
“For me,” Cam said, “you’re totally tapping into something I love about this: This isn’t about completion or about being adversarial. This is about having integrity and telling the truth when these two women have been put into a situation that neither of them chose. And then, because of the actions of this guy, they have to figure out where to go from here.”
“And, like (in ‘Lucille’), it isn’t this angry moment. It’s a very ’trying as hard as you can’ to say something in a calm way to help figure it out together.”
Right now, we find ourselves in a real-life cultural landscape where more and more public figures are being outed with accusations of sexual impropriety. The old “boys will be boys” defense won’t cut it, and men — all men, everywhere — are forced at looking into their own complicity.
“Diane” itself serves as an unintentional meta-commentary, and a prescient one at that: that of two women having to figure out what to do in the fallout of their dealings with a man; the same man. The song isn’t meant to be a political statement, but sure works as a potential metaphor.
“I think being a woman and living in this day and age — in this culture,” Cam said, “navigating those things and trying our best to stick together and empower each other, and feel like we can say things out loud that people would say ‘you need to keep this under wraps,’ I think those themes definitely exist in ‘Diane.'”
“For women it’s terrifying and horrible to hear these stories, but very encouraging to see women aren’t afraid to risk the backlash that’s coming at them and they’re still sticking up to the notion that a change can actually happen.”
Cam herself is thoughtful, breezy, engaging and personable, and she easily translates these qualities to the stage. As for the show itself, it will be less acoustic-based than the last time she performed here, incorporating a special custom LED structure to punch up the visuals.
“I love being (at the Crystal Palace),” Cam said. “I love the staff, I love the food; the whole crew that comes in is really great. And historically, obviously. It warms my heart.”
“Because of the success of ‘Burning House’… It’s given me the confidence and the freedom to go deeper into this new music, and you can hear it in all the new songs. It’s definitely the best I’ve ever been at singing and in songwriting. I think it’s a really fun bridge that everyone gets to be a part of and see happening.”