Just when you think your year-end lists are set in stone…
Camaran Ochs, known professionally as “Cam,” has been kicking around Nashville for the better part of a decade, and while she scored a breakthrough hit in 2015 with the excellent “Burning House,” she wasn’t able to capitalize on her momentum (her followup single “Mayday” didn’t crack the Top 30), and ended up fading back into obscurity. She’s back with a vengeance, however, with her new single “Diane,” an old-school cheating confrontation track (and response to Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene”) that puts an intriguing new spin on an classic country topic.
The first (and probably biggest) surprise here is the producers’ approach to the song’s production. Cheating is generally treated as a somber, serious topic in country songs, with slower tempos, darker tones, and a cry-into-your-beer vibe. “Diane,” however, opens with a rousing acapella version of the chorus, and then unleashes an uptempo, brightly-toned, acoustic-guitar-driven mix that just crackles with nervous energy. A real drum set and electric guitar eventually jump in to add some atmosphere and intensity, and the bridge solo ups the ante even further with a barroom piano and string section. It’s a bold sound choice, but it works by maintaining a constant sense of tension and mixing in short bursts of minor chords that give you the sense that the bright, cheery mix is just a veneer over the darkness bubbling underneath. Parton’s “Jolene” might have been the inspiration for this song, but you get the sense that the narrator has Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” in the back of her mind, and is desperately trying to keep things cordial and nonviolent. Overall, the mix here is not what you expect, and that’s a very good thing.
We already knew Cam was a talented singer from “Burning House,” and the range, tone, and earnestness from that track are still present here. What we didn’t get from that song, however, was a sense of Cam’s sheer vocal power, as it wasn’t necessary for a lovelorn ballad. For “Diane,” on the other hand, Cam removes the governor and delivers a forceful, charismatic performance that feels smooth and effortless. While her flow isn’t perfect by any means (she has a tendency to hold near-closing notes a bit too long, forcing her to quickly cram in the rest of the line), she completely owns the narrator’s role while showing the world that she’s got a power voice on the level of Carrie Underwood if she needs it.
The song itself is a bit of a twist on the classic cheating trope, as most tracks tackle the subject from the point of view of the remorseful cheater, and tracks that covering the first meeting of the wronged spouse and the “third party” tend to contain sorrowful pleading (“Jolene”) or implied violence (“Fist City,” or even Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs”). “Diane,” in comparison, is an other-woman-centered song that appears to be well aware of its history, and thus the narrator tries to forge a connection with the spouse (“I gave him my heart to break/Now I know he broke yours first,” “How could we be such fools,” etc.) and not-so-subtly deflect blame to the cheater (“I would have noticed a gold wedding band,” “You’re only cheating yourself/Choosing him over the truth”). It’s an interesting balance that makes the listener question whether the narrator is really an innocent victim or a fully-aware participant that’s just trying to save themselves from spousal wrath. Otherwise, the song is fairly straightforward, features some solid hooks, and is generally pleasant (and even fun) to listen to.
Overall, “Diane” is exactly the kind of comeback song Cam needs to get her career back on track. It meshes well with today’s radio climate, tells an old story in a refreshing way, and highlights her talents as both a singer and songwriter. While her label has an annoying habit of releasing her material in December, I expect this song to stand out amidst the usual holiday retreads and make a big splash in 2018.
Rating: 8/10. Go check this one out.