OCTOBER 17 1998

LARRY LEBLANC -BILLBOARD MAGAZINE

Airplay May Be A Challenge As Rock Vet Issues New Set

TORONTO-With “XRay Sierra,” his first album of new songs in four years, Tom Cochrane makes the transition from heartland rocker to mature singer/songwriter. But the artist may face an uphill battle at radio, where it’s been six years since his last hit singles.

“XRay Sierra” is being released Nov. 3 here by EMI Music Canada.

“I know I’ve made a great record,” says the Toronto-based Cochrane. “Several [EMI Canada] executives were shocked” because it’s not a rock album. “But it’s what [fans might] expect from a creative Tom Cochrane today.”

Deane Cameron, president of EMI Music Canada, says he is ecstatic about Cochrane’s recording. “Tom has recorded an album with great story songs, singable melodies, and fabulous vocals,” he says. “For years, he tried to be a rocker. I kept telling him, `Just be the poet you are.’ This album reflects his age and wisdom.”

The album features striking narrative songs such as “Northern Frontier,” “Stonecutter’s Arms,” “Marianne And Lenny,” and “Willie Dixon Said” and hook-laden pop tracks like “I Wonder” and “Heartbreak Girl.”

The album’s pop-styled lead single, “I Wonder,” was issued to Canadian rock and hot AC radio formats Sept. 9 and to Canadian top 40 Sept.16. In the Oct. 12 issue of The Record, the single is No. 46 on the Broadcast Data Systems-based top 40 chart and No. 37 on the rock radio chart.

A video of “I Wonder” was shot recently in Toronto with director Pablo Fairhall. The album is being promoted nationally Oct. 29 with a 90 minute acoustic performance by Cochrane and his band on the Sound Source Radio Network.

“We went to all three [radio] formats because [Tom’s] audience spans three age groups,” says Peter Diemer, VP of national promotion at EMI Music Canada. “There’s a longstanding history at [Canadian] radio with Tom. Programmers know his worth in the marketplace.”

“When you first hear the record [“I Wonder”], you might not recognize it as being Tom Cochrane, but it’s a really good pop track,” says Wayne Webster, music director of AC CKFM Toronto.

However, several top programmers are hesitant about the pop-styled “I Wonder,” saying it doesn’t really represent the album well. “Hopefully, we’ll go on ‘I Wonder’ in a couple of weeks,” says Carter Brown, music director of top 40 CKIK Calgary, Alberta. “We’re letting [the track] prove itself with rock radio first.”

Rob Robson, music director of album rock CFOX Vancouver, says the station is not playing the song “because it’s not that strong. I’m going to wait for the album and see if there’s something stronger. With his last [studio] album, we played three songs, and all of them didn’t fare well with our research. A name doesn’t mean anything to our listeners today.”

James Stuart, PD of top 40 CKNG Edmonton, Alberta, isn’t convinced Cochrane is a top 40 core artist any longer. “I’m not so sure that Tom’s time hasn’t come and gone at CHR,” he says. “CHR is a youthful, like.”

Since recording the album “Hang On To Your Resistance” on Daffodil Records in 1977 under the group name Cochrane (which featured Cameron on drums) and fronting Red Rider for seven albums from 1980 to 1989, Cochrane has been recognized as one of the country’s most accomplished songwriters, on equal footing with such fellow Canadians as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bruce Cockburn.

“XRay Sierra” is being issued only in Canada this year. “We are not approaching [international EMI affiliates] until the new year,” says Karen Klug, international marketing director at EMI Music Canada.

Canadian retailers are cautiously optimistic about Cochrane’s new recording. “If it’s a good record, he’ll do well,” says Tim Baker, buyer with the 31-store Sunrise Records chain in Toronto. “Tom bridges that gap between new and old rock.”

Adds Lane Orr, buyer at the 13store A&B Sound chain in Vancouver, “Cochrane still has a strong core audience. I don’t know if the album will be huge, but it’ll do some numbers. [Cochrane’s previous studio album] `Ragged Ass Road’ was slow out of the gate, but we sold clean on it. It wasn’t a `Mad Mad World,’ which, of course, had `Life Is A Highway.”‘

“Mad Mad World,” Cochrane’s 1992 album, was certified diamond (1 million units sold) in Canada. Two singles, “Life Is A Highway” and “No Regrets,” reached No. 1 on The Record’s contemporary album radio and contemporary hit radio charts while “Sinking Like A Sunset” reached No. 1 on the contemporary album radio chart and No. 3 on the contemporary hit radio chart.

However, sales of Cochrane’s bleak 1995 follow-up, “Ragged Ass Road,” fell short of expectations, and Cochrane was written off by many as a figure of the past.

A creative rebirth came with his 1997 album “Songs Of A Circling Spirit,” a retrospective acoustic concert set of Red Rider and Cochrane solo work. While the album sold only 25,000 units in Canada, says Cameron, the national tour that sparked the album rejuvenated the artist.

To promote “XRay Sierra,” Cochrane hopes to do “six to eight” theater shows in Canada in late November or December.