Saturday, October 16, 2010

This Fire Still Burns

There was a time when female singer-songwriters ruled the charts. From Sheryl Crow to Shawn Colvin, Alanis Morisette and Fiona Apple. While all the ladies were ultra-talented, Paula Cole broke through with probably the best Lilith Fair-esque album, the epic This Fire. Most of these women were angry, but few took their anger like Cole to make such magic out of the emotion. Combined with her impressive voice and a background in jazz, Cole made music that her contemporaries only wish they could’ve.

That was 1996, and since then Paula Cole has been somewhat hidden from the music world. With only three albums in 14 years, Cole seemed to have lost her way in the past. In 1999, with the release of Amen, Paula Cole dove deeper into her jazzy roots, but at the same time, didn’t make the transition from angry and hurt to a born-again Christian successfully. Lyrically the album is among her weakest, and while there are amazing moments on the album, overall Amen paled compared to her peak years.

Then came 2007’s Courage—another disappointment. Paula Cole gets it the most right when it’s just her, raw and open, alongside her piano. Something Courage was missing, raw-Cole. Radio-friendly it was, something better suited for Sarah Mclachlan than Paula Cole.

Now with the return of Cole in a new form with Ithaca, the singer-songwriter has finally found out where have all the cowboys gone, and has found many new stories to tell about what real life can be. .

It’s easy to say Cole has went back to her roots for this album, but Ithaca is a completely new journey. While This Fire was about her early years and breaking her own mold, Ithaca finds Cole finding her way home, if not the long way.

“Music in Me” the album’s first commercial single finds Cole at her creative and artistic peak. If one had ever thought that Cole would never be able to make a record as impressive as her past material, “Music in Me” hails the return of Super Paula, back with infectious hooks, raw emotion and personal lyrics that are eerily universal.

On the album’s most soft and precious moments, “Elegy” and “Violet Eyes” Cole dives deep down inside of her to create a tenderness that is beautifully haunting. Lyrically, they see Cole reflecting on herself and life itself, pondering the deep questions and looking at herself in a real way for the first time in years.

Retro-Paula comes out the most on “The Hard Way,” which could have easily been tacked onto Cole’s debut LP. But Cole really steps back in time on“P.R.E.N.U.P,” Cole’s update on the Tammy Wynette country classic “D.IV.O.R.C.E.” The song finds the singer in a new area: twang. Not a cover, more of an homage to the iconic track, but finds Cole’s humorous take on the contemporary state of marriage (or the dissolution of it).

“Sex” is simply put, Cole’s most erotic expression since “Feelin’ Love.” One of the few singer-songwriter female artists to express raw sexuality, Paula Cole shows that a woman can be creative, poetic, intelligent, talented, but still have a sexual drive and sensuality that makes someone like Fergie look like a silly school girl.

Cole does resort to the safer side at times (as she did on Amen and Courage). Songs like “Come On Inside” and “Somethin’ I’ve Gotta Say” sound just a little bit like something from a romantic comedy, and while Cole makes the most of the genre, still, these are chick-flick songs. “Waiting On a Miracle” isn’t quite as bad, but lyrically and sonically sound similar to the weaker Amen material.

It has been over 15 years since Cole’s debut with Harbinger, and even though the songstress has seen her share of success and flops over the years, there is one thing for certain: there is still a burning fire that is deep inside the singer-songwriter and her connection to herself, her music and to her fans has not been watered down. With Ithaca, Cole has only begun her musical journey and it has become more than obvious that she doesn’t need that cowboy, anymore.

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