New Paula Cole Album An Unsuccessful Effort


I like Paula Cole’s voice, but I’ve got no love for her latest record. It’s an independent, Kickstarter-funded project billed as a return to her Americana roots, but it really shows how far she’s strayed. Take the song “Manitoba.” Is something’s amiss when it sounds more like a West Hollywood studio than a Western Canadian province? Yes, there is.  Cole has a glorious voice that moves across octaves and scales with the ease of a supple ten-year-old ascending and descending a set of monkey bars. But therein lies the problem. Cole sings like the Grammy Award winning pop artist she has been for the past decade. We expect to be blown away by big voices in pop songs. What else is there in compositions that seldom get much more sophisticated than “Oooh, baby, baby, I love you?” By contrast, we listen to folk songs for their narratives, causes, gorgeous melodies, and revelatory emotions. Cole has a powerful voice that she rockets from earthy whispers to Streisand-like crescendos at the bat of an eyelash. Okay, but she wants us to hear the lyrics, she doesn’t articulate well, and any message that might have been there gets lost in a welter of vocal pyrotechnics. Put another way, folk music has produced glorious voices–Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart–but there are not diva voices. If Cole’s intention is to turn back the clock a bit, she’d do well to remember that there’s a world of difference between staging a song and interpreting one. If you like big voices, Cole’s theatrics on Raven are impressive; but if you really care about the content, they won’t leave much of an impression.   --Rob Weir

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