Paula Cole's fourth album, Courage, is about starting over. A more collaborative effort than any of her previous discs, the elegant Courage finds Cole working with a host of writers and players, and balances piano-based pop with her first true musical love: jazz. The album's title, she says, encapsulates just what she needed to pull this record off, as the disc arrives at the end of a soul-searching, and at times soul-crushing period during which she contemplated ending her music career.
But in 2005, when an old acquaintance and producer Bobby Colomby (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Jaco Pastorius, The Jacksons) asked Cole to sing on several tracks on trumpeter Chris Botti's When I Fall In Love album, the joy of music began to return: "When I was singing with him, it was like music was fun again," she says. "I sang a lot of jazz when I was in college�"I wanted to be kind of like a female Chet Baker or something so it was so fun to sing these songs again, to record music live, you know, where you get it in one or two takes, and that's it."
Colomby quickly became "the one who kind of led me out from under the rock," Cole says, noting that he pushed Cole to open herself up creatively like never before. She played less piano, thanks to the likes of Billy Childs, David Foster, Jeff Lorber and Herbie Hancock (who guests on the track, "Lonelytown"), and she co-wrote songs for the first time in her career. She penned with Dean Parks, Mark Goldenberg, Jeremy Lubbock, Patrick Leonard and Jeff Lorber.
"I couldn't be my naturally controlling self," she says. "And I think that was really healthy for me, to not be so precious and controlling and I didn't have to write all these songs and play a million instruments, I could focus more on my singing, and my composing and lyric writing."
In the years between the dissolution of her Warner Bros. deal and the sessions for Courage, Cole struggled with depression, and on the pretty, diary-opener "El Greco," she kind of speaks to that period, as well as this rebirth she's experiencing: "I forgot who I used to be/I forgot the woman in red, living her dream/I forgot the Courage I used to be." That tale of rebirth also weaves itself through songs like "Coming Down" and "Love Light." But on tracks like the delicate "Lonelytown" and the twinkling, boppin', almost bossa nova "Hard to Be Soft" (featuring vocalist Ivan Lins), she lets her jazz roots shine. She bounces between two genres throughout Courage. "Comin' Down," the disc's opener, owes more to the music Cole is known for, and the album ends with a sweeping, string-laden duet with Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile.