Paula Cole – Raven (2013)

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Raven probably won’t sell like Paula Cole’s moon-shot breakthrough This Fire, but it should.

Story songs like “Life Goes On” and “Eloise” certainly recall that 1996 album’s striking narrative successes, as Cole draws the listener in close — sharing a series of details that linger long after the last notes fade.

Of course, back in the 1990s, Cole had No. 8 and 11 hits, won a Grammy and had a tune used in the title track TV’s “Dawson’s Creek” — all with compositions not unlike the new “Imaginary Man” (which echoes the lonesome theme of “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?”) or “Why Don’t You Go” (with soaring aspirations not unlike “I Don’t Want To Wait”). But, alas, we are living in a different time and place now.

Cole had to raise the money for this album by herself — rather than release it on a major. Despite that sea change in the way her music operates as a business, however, the quality and emotion of Paula Cole’s work remains.

Elsewhere, “Imaginary Man” displays a whispered fragility, while “Manitoba” works within the rhythmic complexities of Peter Gabriel, for whom Cole was singing backup in 1993-94 when she first gained wider notice. (Closer inspection reveals that bass on this track is handled by Gabriel band stalwart Tony Levin, who appears on 6 of the 11 Raven tracks.) “Strong Beautiful Woman” finds Cole in an oaken, darkly contemplative place, while “Sorrow on the Hudson” is somehow quieter still.

Will the buying public stumble into all of this beauty, nearly two decades after Cole’s hey day? Hard to say. But here’s hoping …

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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