I first heard Paula Cole on one of those late 1990s music shows that used to air late at night, maybe it was Sessions at West 54th Street. It was after a gig so I settled in to see what was happening and there she was. I hadn’t heard anything about her before that night but immediately I was hooked.
The songs were wonderfully crafted pop tunes with an interesting harmonic vocabulary. Her lyrics spoke of a young woman coming of age and making her own way in the world. Her voice was mature with a long range and she sang with the purity of conviction. It wasn’t the usual pop act going through the motions. This woman really cared about the music, the music really mattered and it was infectious.
Now, after many years away from the music business, Paula is back with a new CD called Courage. In the intervening years, she got married and had a child, but was lured back by producer Bobby Colomby. (Her website blog now hints that she is divorcing.) Paula has grown amazingly during her time away, and this new offering is full of great songs & playing all wrapped in a terrific sounding production.
Bobby Colomby, as you may recall, was the original drummer for Blood, Sweat & Tears who eventually graduated to record producer. He’s known for the now-iconic Jaco Pastorius, the bassist’s first solo album which turned so many musicians’ heads upside down. Here he’s collected a group of sympathetic musicians who perfectly complement Paula’s vibe.
Los Angeles studio legend Dean Parks plays guitar on much of the CD, and he’s at his best on tunes like Comin’ Down. His understated electric guitar drives the tune and he even elaborates on dobro for a section. Dean’s playing is always so simple and so spare, but it’s always exactly what a song needs to propel it and set the mood. He’s one of my favorites and his good taste runs rampant throughout. Mark Goldenberg shares the guitar duties here with great sounds as well.
I’m also excited that a few of my friends from the Wicked pit get to play with Paula, too. Kathleen Robertson and Melissa Hasin are in the string section playing violin and cello respectively. They comprise the entire string section at Wicked and are two of the finest players I know with a great attitude to match. Ian Walker, who is a sub in our pit, plays bass on a few numbers, a position he shares with Jimmy Johnson on the CD.
As I was listening to the CD in my car, I was struck by how much Paula is influenced by Joni Mitchell. I guess I never realized it, but it was a revelation nonetheless. The sound of her voice, the way she scoops into high falsetto, the evocation of pure sound; and although their music is totally different from each other’s, it’s nice to know that someone is carrying the torch with lyrics of piercing insight combined with a music that embraces intelligence and taste. Don’t miss this one…
Note: When I visited Paula’s website I was surprised (and thrilled) to see that she was offering a live version (for playback) of Joni’s River from Blue. I don’t know how long that’ll be up there, so you should check it out soon.