The following article appears in the Sunday, 8/5 edition of the TENNESSEAN NEWSPAPER:
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She won't go quietly
Even when she first found success in the '80s, K.T. Oslin didn't fit the youthful radio demographic. She may be over the hill, but these days she's also over the old radio game. By PETER COOPER
K.T. Oslin wants it on the record. ''I'm 59,'' she said. ''Put that in there. There's a bio going around that says I'm 60, and that irks me.''
Whether 59 or 60, Oslin is about 30 years removed from the average major label female country artist. Fourteen years ago, she debuted on the country charts with her '80s Ladies album and tapped into country's baby boomer zeitgeist. Oslin scored big with songs that depicted mature women struggling to love, work and live, and her target audience was a generation of females who were broad in number and laden with expendable cash.
Now, Oslin still appeals to a generation of females who are broad in number and laden with expendable cash. But despite having released a new Raul Malo-produced album that ranks with her best work, radio won't have anything to do with her. ''It's odd,'' she said. ''I certainly appeal to the largest demographic there is, and these people are being ignored in all of the radio formats, and also in movies.''
As she well knows, Oslin would need to subtract 25 years (that's just about two Billy Gilmans) from her current age in order to compete at country radio. And, as she also knows, country radio remains the key to making fans aware that an artist is releasing new product.
K.T. Oslin is clear-eyed about her status as an endangered musical species, and she's unwilling to stick around the scene, hoping some crumbs will drop her way.
''I'll probably never do another album,'' she said, tossing that piece of information off during a lunch interview in the same casual manner with which she says ''I just came from the gym'' or ''I'll have water to drink.''
''I don't think I'm that interested in music anymore,'' she continued. ''I was interested in doing this album (Live Close By, Visit Often), but look at how it's struggling.''
In fact, a dance version of the album's closing song, Come On-A My House, has entered the mix at gay dance clubs, while the country world has ignored Live Close By, Visit Often.
Oslin's 1980s and early '90s success with songs like '80s Ladies, Do Ya', Hold Me and Come Next Monday led to a still-healthy bank account. She lives as she wishes, paints, takes naps, works with miniature houses, goes to movies, and doesn't write songs unless she's working on an album. After a series of heart problems, she's feeling well, too.
''I've recorded everything I've ever written,'' she said. ''And that's only about 40 songs. If you're a writer and at the mercy of whoever's cutting a song, that's what you need to do. But for me, who else is going to record Neva Sawyer?''
The aforementioned tune is a highlight of Live Close By, Visit Often. In the song, Oslin's omnipotent narrator follows four largely clueless characters on the road to love's destruction: by the end, the title character has caused a fight and a bar's patrons are hollering ''B...h fight!''
''It's about four useless people who come together and do useless things,'' she says, laughing. ''I guess I figured we needed a good b...h fight song to follow up (Aaron Tippin's) Kiss This. You see, they were glad to play Kiss This (in that song, the puckery admonition is followed by the explanation ''And I don't mean on my rosy red lips'') but I guarantee they won't play Neva.''
Oslin smiles when she says things like that. She's not angry, only contemplative. And she's proud of the work she's done on what, for now at least, looks to be her swan song.
''The whole album is meant to be entertaining, and that's all,'' she said. ''For me, fun is variety, and there's a little of everything on here. I can listen to this one all the way through and not have any of the songs seem so horrible that I can't stand them.''
In truth, she likes the songs quite well. Her self-written compositions display a still-sharp sense of irony and humor that offsets the poignancy of the album's saddest ballad, Maybe We Should Learn To Tango. And the title song is a should-be anthem for older singles who've been burnt crispy in past affairs.
''Vocally, I'm probably at my peak, and I think I'm a damn good songwriter,'' she said. ''But the styles change, and people want nice and pretty and glossy now: they get disturbed by real life. I can go 30 years without a record. What's the point in making a record if you're not going to get any attention for it. If you're not mainstream, not really there, what's the point?''
Peter Cooper writes about music for the Tennessean. He can be reached at 259-8220 or by e-mail at [email protected]