It’s no big news in the 21st century when a major-label artist goes indie. But 17 years after Paula Cole’s big 1990s hits, her independent debut marks a striking turn in a quirky career.
Remember Paula Cole? If not her name, you probably know her once-ubiquitous hit “I Don’t Want to Wait,” which served as the theme song to the mystifyingly popular teen soap Dawson’s Creek. That single and the more eccentric “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” came from her breakout self-produced 1996 sophomore album This Fire, which resulted in a Best New Artist Grammy and a nomination for Producer of the Year, the first such nod for a solo woman. But tastes are fickle, her next album wasn’t nearly as successful, and after 1999 she took a long hiatus.
After eight years Cole returned to the recording studio with a new label, and released two albums that didn’t make much of a splash. But with Raven, her brand new disc, coming out April 23 as the first she’s released without a label, she could be poised for a renaissance.
Raven‘s 11 songs are full of Cole’s trademark liquid leaps from her mellow mid-scale vocals into soprano territory. They feature some arty, non-traditional arrangements, like the dark atmospherics of “Manitoba” and “Imaginary Man”; the elemental thumps (along with bassist Tony Levin’s Chapman stick) driving “Billy Joe”; and the Nirvana-like dynamics of “Secretary.”
In addition to Levin, the backing musicians include some humpback whales, and everyone’s under Cole’s control: Always an independent spirit even when signed to a major label, she took the reins in the studio for this project as well. Bringing to bear all her songwriting maturity, emotional depth, and a voice that’s gotten a little richer while losing none of its clarity and range, she’s making a strong play to gain a fresh audience, or at least reel in more of those young alt-rocking 1990s fans who’ve since gone off to listen to who knows what.