Adams digs deep to rise with older audiences

Her serious themes bypass teen crowd, but singer content

May 18, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Tipper Gore and Lynne Cheney, the wives of the once and current vice presidents, who have led crusades to clean up pop music for America's kids, have no beef with Oleta Adams, a preacher's kid herself.

Adams doesn't work blue or load up her songs with sexual innuendo, so there will never be a need for parental warning stickers on her albums.

Nonetheless, Adams' music isn't intended for children, unless they are prepared to deal with issues like making marriage work or spirituality or drawing closer to one's siblings. This is pop music for adults about the everyday problems and joys of real life.

"I just mean subject matter that is beyond and is a little bit deeper than `Baby, I saw you last night and you look fine,' or whatever that stuff is that they're doing today on the radio. I like to write about meaningful topics that help us to learn how to live better," Adams said.

The flip side of singing adult-oriented music is that younger people don't buy your records, and your name doesn't fall trippingly off the tongues of radio disc jockeys and your videos don't get across-the-board play.

Adams, who performs two shows tonight at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, is also touring to promote All the Love, her first album in seven years with six songs that she wrote or co-wrote. She says she can manage just fine without the trappings of superstardom, so long as there are grown-ups who appreciate the themes she's identifying.

"I may not be a megastar, but I'm still working. And that's the best that you can hope for. That's what you do. You put your music out there and hope that somebody hears it," she said in a telephone interview. "I have not really compromised a lot in that respect in my career, and I'm glad that that sets me apart. And I'm really happy with the idea of just plugging along. The more successful you are, the more limited you are. It's the difference between being the big, big star who brings everyone to the theater or being the guy who gets a role in every single one of them. It's nice to be just under the top, maybe."

Adams' story has been one of just plugging along and getting around obstacles. She began singing in her father's Baptist church in Seattle at the age of 4, and graduated to regular gigs in hotels and clubs around Kansas City, Kan., before she was discovered in the late 1980s by the British group Tears for Fears.

The band invited her to join it on a 1989 tour and featured her on its Seeds of Love album and subsequent videos. Band leader Roland Orzabal produced Adams' 1990 debut album, Circle of One, which yielded her biggest hit to date, a cover of Brenda Russell's "Get Here," a tale of long-distance love that got big airplay during the gulf war.

Adams had middling success with two subsequent albums, then left her original label, Mercury, and released a gospel album in 1997. Two years later, a pair of San Francisco business executives approached her about doing an album, All the Love, for their label. She finished the project in 2000, but two days after returning from a tour in the Netherlands, Adams found out that the label had gone out of business, leaving the album in limbo.

Finally, All the Love was sold to Pioneer Music, and the album was released in February. (Its title track is dedicated to her husband of seven years, John Cushon, who is her drummer.)

Getting an adult-themed album noticed in an increasingly teeny-bopper world is a challenge, but one that Adams says she's up to.

"Things are really changing and it's hard to be heard. But it's not impossible. You just have to sell it door-to-door, which is probably what we'll be doing. I got some in my car. You want a couple?" joked Adams. "Even though it took forever, I just think it's always for some kind of reason. I don't know what that is and it can be frustrating. You were told that if you have the talent and you have the supply and there is demand for that talent, supply and demand should equal success. But it has never been that simple.

"I learned a long time ago that those formulas don't always work. But it hasn't stopped me. You just keep going, and there's so much else to do. There's so much in life that is so wonderful and so beautiful. So many other great opportunities come along with the music that you otherwise wouldn't have a chance at, until it's a waste of time to sit around bemoaning that.

"It's a very humbling business, but, at the same time, I have been so tremendously blessed that the only thing I know to do is to just keep going."

Oleta Adams

Where: Rams Head Tavern, 33 West St., Annapolis

When: 7 and 9:30 tonight

Admission: $35

Call: 410-268-4545

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