'90s singer/songwriter Paula Cole to perform at Englert


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An episode of the '90s teenage drama "Dawson's Creek" wouldn't be complete without its signature theme song. The emotional ballad encompasses the feelings of the characters on the show who search for love and "don't want to wait" for their lives to be over, as the song tells audiences.

But for Paula Cole, the song has an entirely different meaning: It supported the singer/songwriter when she took a break from the music business.

"I thank God for 'Dawson's Creek,' because it was playing my song, and I had time to spend with my daughter," she said.

The artist, known for such '90s hits as "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone" and "I Don't Wanna Wait," is back from an almost decade-long hiatus. She will bring a new depth of musical intellect at 8 p.m. Friday to the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St. Admission ranges from $25 to $35.

Cole compares her beginnings in the music business to being caught in a giant hamster wheel. Throughout seven years of touring, she said, she spent little time at home and her personal life suffered. She felt an emptiness, longed for love, and needed a break.

Now, she's back. In September, she released the album Ithaca. The title is a metaphor for her return home to Massachusetts after 10 years of struggling through a divorce and becoming a mother.

"I go about things a little more gently," she said. "I am grateful that I am still in the music business. I get discouraged sometimes, but I keep going on because I must."

Producing Ithaca was a several-year process for Cole. She wrote the songs in the years when she took time away from the music business and said the album is like a series of snapshots detailing what she experienced during that period.

A progression occurs from song to song on the album. Such tracks as "The Hard Way" and "Waiting on a Miracle" reflect her divorce. As she began to get out of that relationship, she wrote lyrics for the song "The Music in Me." She said most ideas came to her after returning home. Gaining distance from her past, she wrote "Prenup," "Love Again," and "Come on Inside," which, she said, have a more optimistic tone.

"There is something about when you sing, because when words are accompanied by music, they are arrows that go into people's hearts," she said.

Writing music about the truth, which she admits can be ugly, is much more important to her than writing songs that are "clever." She seeks music that is passionate and emotional and draws inspiration from such artists as John Lennon and Joni Mitchell.

Those are artists of an era in which Cole believes music was much more respected.

"I'm sad that what was considered so sacred, vital, and important is now free if you download illegally," she said. "It just doesn't have the same importance, it seems."

She also acknowledges the difficulty new artists face trying to get a break on the music scene. The opening act accompanying Cole, Brendan James, is an example of someone in this situation.

"I think about that all the time," James said. "I think the reason I finally am doing well is that I have really stuck with it for several years. It does take a lot of persistence, and you have to prove that your sound is unique."

After having success with his first album, While the Day is Brave, he recently released his second album, Brendan James. He said it's similar to the first in that it expresses personal details of his life.

In contrast, he feels Brendan James is more lyrically experimental than While the Day is Brave.
Like Cole, James isn't afraid to write lyrics pulled from his own life.

"For me, it's not that hard [to write about my life]," he said. "It's how I create my art. I'm not really ashamed of where I come from or whatever I've been through."

He is excited about playing with Cole for the first time, especially because the audience she attracts is one he wants to share his music with.

Cole shares the excitement — she will return to Iowa to perform for the first time since the late-90s.

"It's kind of moving when people hold [my] music dear," she said. "It's just all amazing to me that I get my body on a plane, fly to a show, and then there are people there who care."

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