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Review:  Paula Cole Returns to the Spotlight December 16th, 2010

Paula Cole Returns to the Spotlight

Lauren Silvestri

Fans of Dawson's Creek may remember Paula Cole most for her hit single, "I Don't Want to Wait," featured on the show, but she has accomplished much more in her career and life since then. After taking a hiatus from the stressful music business in 2001 to focus on being a mother, Cole returned with 2007's Courage and recently just released her latest album Ithaca, which may be her most personal record yet.

Ithaca details Cole's journey from her painful divorce, to rediscovering herself, to eventually experiencing "the healing redemptive power of new love." Cole wrote every song and describes it as "more rock, pop, and soul-influenced," and says it is based on Homer's classic epic The Odyssey, because after her divorce she returned back home to Rockport, Massachusetts. 

Ithaca starts off with "The Hard Way," a bitter song alluding to her painful divorce, singing how she's "scared to trust again." But a later track, "P.R.E.N.U.P," sounds like a more light-hearted, humorous outlook on the divorce. She also sings in "Come On Inside," about a new relationship. So how was Cole able to make this transition?

"Most of the time now, I'm able to look at the past with relative lightness, humor. It is a waste of one's life to carry resentment," she says. "I was alone for a good long period and then I realized I was truly ready. Of course it's scary to trust again - it feels as if one's heart becomes even more fragile with age. But what does one do? Remain cowering? No. One must confront fear to grow."

Over the years, Cole has struggled with the pressures of the music business. In "Somethin' I've Gotta Say," she sings, "why do I feel I must choose between my music and my heart" and about "futile pressure on this hamster wheel." The "hamster wheel" not only deals with the music industry but also American society.

"I find our American society to be one that encourages a highly materialistic, active, ego-driven path…It is healthy for our psyche to be diverse. We are congratulated and awarded higher dollars in specializing. We run toward this type-A-carrot-goal discovering that there can be great personal unhappiness in single-minded obsession," she comments. "And so, we become mindless hamsters running on a career wheel. What is the reward? Money? Fame? At one point I received both and I was at the nadir of so-called 'happiness'…This song represents other longings from the heart, the psyche. It represents my subconscious telling me to stop the path I was on and be true to inner callings. I wrote this song in 1999, before I had my daughter. I knew a change was gonna come."

However, Cole could not stay away from the music business forever. She claims vocally she is in her "prime," her voice "like some fine wine that has opened." After hearing Ithaca, her powerful but gentle, distinct voice is undeniable. She is currently on tour and is loving it, but is still trying to seek balance with home and work, and chooses when and where she performs more wisely now. 

This album is her first since turning 40, but she couldn't be in a better place. She has come a long way since her debut in the mid-90's. "I'm interested in life's landscape after one's twenties/thirties. After the symbolic killings and conjugal love-unions; the rebelling which stems from one's immature unconscious, there are profound realizations that lead to more mature plateaus of acceptance," she says. "It's not all bad turning forty."