Tom Cochrane, “Ragged Ass Road” (Capitol; running time: 53:58; 12 tracks)
Four years ago, Tom Cochrane was cruising along life’s highway. He had left the Canadian band Red Rider and his solo debut, “Mad Mad World,” sold 2 million copies worldwide, while the single from the collection, “Life Is a Highway” was a Top 10 hit.
But with that kind of success comes stress and demands, or in Cochrane’s words, some “Ragged Ass Road.” The term refers to a stretch of rough road in Cochrane’s native Manitoba; it also is an involving new album.
Unlike the more upbeat “Mad Mad World,” “Ragged Ass Road” is a moodier, more introspective work. But introspection is when Cochrane happens to be at his best.
He is a keen, thoughtful observer of life, and his observations and insights are the driving force of such tracks as “I Wish You Well,” with its equal parts hope and regret, and “Message (Rise Up Again),” a tribute to his father, a former bush pilot in the Canadian wilderness who is afflicted by a combination of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Equally compelling are “Flowers in the Concrete,” which eloquently tells the story of a proud, yet homeless, woman, and “Paper Tigers,” which is dedicated to Cochrane’s favorite poet, Sylvia Plath.
While Cochrane’s strength lies with his words, he’s no slouch when it comes to writing music that effectively underscores his lyrics. A slinky guitar-and-drums mix enhances the dark tone of “Will of the Gun,” while an acoustic guitar and some gentle keyboards and percussion are perfect for the ballad “Song Before I Leave,” which Cochrane concludes with an impassioned flair.
There are times when Cochrane’s instrumentation recalls that of others. This is particularly true of the full-bodied “Best Waste of Time” and “Flowers in the Concrete,” which both hark to John Mellencamp’s style.
It’s not only his music that bears hints of other musicians. There are times on the album that Cochrane sounds like other vocalists, including U2’s Bono on “Will of the Gun” and fellow Canadian Bryan Adams on “Wildest Dream.”
These borrowings aside, Cochrane is an original worth spending time with — either barreling down life’s highway or traversing its ragged roads.