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Singer Mary Cogan returns to hometown for benefit show

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DECATUR - There are moments in the life of a musician where he or she may have to weigh the value of growing a music career against everything else, such as work, family, home and friends.

For Decatur native Mary Cogan, there have been several such moments, when the popular Tulsa, Okla., club singer was faced with a tough decision.

Convinced she made the right choices by deciding not to shoot for the national spotlight, Cogan has nevertheless continued to embrace the evolution of her "red dirt music," which she brings to Decatur for a benefit show at the Lincoln Square Theatre on Saturday night.

"I was faced with a choice to possibly move to Nashville and try my hand at the country music scene there," said Cogan, a mother of two whose current album, "Bury Me in the Red Clay," was released in January. "I was very close to moving when I realized the reality of it all scared me. So I stayed.

"My priorities now are my family and my kids. I still work at the same job 15 years later, and things worked out great. I have a husband and two little boys I get to see every day, and a music career here in Tulsa. I think that's the best of both worlds."

She admits she enjoys a status more akin to "big fish in a small pond," rather than trying to break into a whole new market filled with young performers trying to do the same thing.

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Cogan didn't start singing regularly until she moved to Tulsa after graduating from Southern Illinois University, and she was surprised in her earlier performing days at having any success at all.

"The singing just began as a little side project, but within a few months I started getting regular bookings," said Cogan, who has worked for years as a pharmaceuticals representative for Johnson and Johnson. "Soon I was booked four or five nights a week, and I actually had to cut back because it was getting to be too much."

Eventually she reached a happy medium and released her first CD, "Mary Cogan: A New Voice." She occasionally returned to Decatur for shows that included Decatur Celebration and gigs at Lock Stock & Barrel. That, however, was close to nine years ago - quite a gap between a debut album and the 2010 release of "Bury Me in the Red Clay." For Cogan, life and a regimented performance schedule in Tulsa superseded recording in the studio.

"Right after the first CD I got married and had a baby," she said. "Life was occurring, and I was happy just to keep performing."

When Cogan received an opportunity to finally record a sophomore album with Grammy winning country music producer Lloyd Maines in Austin, however, she knew she had to jump at the chance. The results highlight Cogan's growth.

"I'm very proud of everything on that album," she said. "It's amazingly well-produced and performed by everyone involved. It captures a blend between the red dirt music of Oklahoma and Texas."

Red dirt music is the term for an offshoot of "outlaw" country named for the red-colored soil of Oklahoma, and it is described by Cogan as "raw country." For a short time, it even seemed the album might be picked up by Sustain Records and distributed nationally, but it was not to be.

"At one point there was a deal on the table that wasn't finalized," Cogan said. "I think they were looking for me to bring my own financial backing for the release, but I wasn't going to do that."

Likewise, Cogan struggled to find radio airtime in Tulsa for the album, despite being a popular club act.

"You can't just go into a radio station anymore and ask them to play your new song," she said. "I happen to think my album is pretty similar to what they're playing, but they don't really have a choice to put it on because of all the corporate ties."

So Cogan scaled back, content to play a few shows per week in her adopted hometown and "spend time with my boys," occasionally venturing abroad for a special show or a fundraiser.

Saturday night's show at the Lincoln Square Theatre will be sponsored by Decatur-based Project Success, with all proceeds going to school programming. Cogan will be joined on stage by Decatur's Lindsey Harrison Band.

"I love making music, but it's not the center of my life anymore," Cogan said. "I've made a name for myself in Tulsa, and that suits me just fine."|421-7973



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