In putting together her latest album, Tara Oram set down some rules. It had to be upbeat, it had to translate well on stage, and it had to be true to her own personal style.
Though proud of her last CD, 2008's "Chasing the Sun," Oram said she felt she had been doing what was expected of her instead of staying true to herself.
"It's very me, musically," Oram explained to The Telegram of her new CD, "Revival," which was released earlier this week. "The last album was very autobiographical and I was telling my story to the country music listener, but this time it's melodically and lyrically songs that I truly love. I've really taken the reins with this record, and it's 100 per cent me."
"Revival," for Oram, marks a point in her life where she feels she's overcome a lot of hardship, where she has found herself and a renewed passion for her music again, she said. Though she celebrates where she is, it wasn't easy getting here, she explained.
"The biggest part of it for me was when my Nan passed away, about a year and a half ago, and it put everything into perspective. I had never gone through loss like that before and she was like a mom to me, so that was a huge turning point in my life. After that, everything just fell into place. You go through struggles and you go through hard times, and in the end, it just makes you stronger."
Oram, a native of Hare Bay, started singing in church as a child. After moving to Ontario around age 10, she started singing karaoke and had a dream, she said, that she'd one day make it in the music industry. By age 16, Oram had signed a record deal with an independent label, and a Top 50 country hit with the song "More Than I Dreamed." In her late teens, Oram sang professionally with band Big Catch, doing corporate shows and bar gigs around Ontario, but left for Gander, where she took up a bartending job in order to try and save up some money. When that money ran out, Oram found herself sleeping in her car for a short time - something her family never learned until she mentioned it in an interview some time later.
In 2007, Oram tried out for "Canadian Idol" and ended up placing 6th on the TV show. A year later she had signed with Open Road Recordings - which also represents country music acts like Reba MacIntyre, Dean Brody, Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift - and released "Chasing the Sun," which earned her three Top 15 singles, an East Coast Music Award for Country Recording of the Year, the Canadian Country Music Association Rising Star Award and a Juno nomination, and had her own CMT reality TV series called "The Tara Diaries."
Oram is also the official spokeswoman for the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation's Sparkles of Hope campaign, selling sterling silver and Swarovski crystal bracelets to raise awareness and support for cancer patients and their families. The campaign has raised $3.5 million since 2010.
After hurricane Igor hit this province last fall, Oram organized a musical benefit in Toronto to benefit families affected.
"That's No. 1 for me, helping people where I come from," she said. "Even with (Sparkles of Hope), I feel inspired to work hard because I know I can come back home and have a bigger voice to speak out for things I believe in. The more success I have, the more I can help other people."
The first single from "Revival," called "1929," was released last month and the video is currently the No. 1 most played video on CMT, although Oram admits she doesn't follow the charts herself.
She did less writing on this album than her last, saying she's not an artist that feels she needs to have a songwriting stamp on every project. She co-wrote two tunes on the CD: "Can't Get Past," which she said is about the feeling that comes with meeting someone new and celebrating it instead of dwelling on heartache; and "Overall," about looking back at a past relationship.
"Not everything has to do with my own personal life," Oram said. "I get inspiration from everyday little things that happen around me."
Her personal favourites on the album are a ballad called "Easier Not To," and "What if I Was Willing," which she loves doing live.
"I had so many great songs to choose from," Oram said. "It was really hard to choose; each song has its own feel and vibe. We basically put songs in categories and figured out which was best in each category, and chose 12."
Another of Oram's criteria for the album was that it was all-Canadian. She shunned the Nashville machine, recording and producing the CD without leaving the country, saying she found no need to go south of the border with so much talent at home.
Oram comes home to this province at least every four months, staying with her mom in Gander. She's currently doing a media blitz, visiting radio stations to promote "Revival," and is performing at summer festivals across the country, opening for acts like Kenny Chesney, Dwight Yoakam and Lady Antebellum.
"It's a lot of fun and I learn a lot, especially while they're on stage," she said. "Every artist wants to get to that level. I don't know if I will, but it's something I'm working really hard for."
Oram's hoping to get back to this province for some shows this summer.