Paula Cole, Ballads

by Constance Tucker

Is jazz the go to material when an artist matures and begins to self-introspect, and after spending years in the rock-singer songwriter genre.  Well, not so true for Paul Cole, her genre bending adventures began many years ago, most notably on the soundtrack to the motion picture Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, her rendition of the classic standard “Autumn Leaves,” actually helped draw in many new vocal jazz fans to key in on the well-crafted standards the genre has to offer.

Cole on her latest full-length jazz offering Ballads, Cole tackles some of the most well-traversed jazz standards, along with a couple of off the beaten path tunes such as “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” and “I Cover the Waterfront,” which adds to the hipper side of discovery on this recording.

Cole’s eighth studio album is a monumental double album of folk and jazz standards, covering material from the Thirties to the Sixties paying homage to the likes of Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone and Bobbie Gentry.

“God Bless the Child,” begins the album, a tune associated with Billie Holiday.  Cole gives it a sweet rendering with her folkish soulful voice, I would not liken this to a jazz version, but more so an homage to a lasting voice that is a beacon of beauty and the appreciation of great lyrics sung with passionate delivery and a poignant reading of a classic standard.

Bobbie Gentry’s award-winning tune “Ode to Billie Joe,” is given a masculine name change to Billy, this 1967 tune was pioneered by Gentry who was a female songwriter in the south in the late 60s, which I might add was not a common occurrence, Cole keeps it very safe on this tune, nothing wrong with the version, but I guess when you have such strong renditions in existence like the original itself sung by the siren Gentry herself, and jazz vocalist Carla Cook’s version, off her Dem Bones album, it’s tough to get those versions out of your mind as a point of measurement.

“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol,” is well-suited for Cole, you can hear the conviction in her delivery.  A tune written by Bob Dylan, gives a generally factual account of the killing of a 51-year-old African-American barmaid, Hattie Carroll, by the 24-year-old William Devereux “Billy” Zantzinger, a young man from a wealthy white tobacco farming family in Charles County, Maryland, and of his subsequent sentence to six months in a county jail, after being convicted of assault. The song was released on Dylan’s 1964 album, The Times They Are a-Changin’.  Cole digs deep, her voice at times fragile and while at other times reverent with restraint.

Would I call this a jazz album, probably not – I would however call it a collection of well-chosen tunes that offer great songwriting and content and good taste in material by Cole.  The vocalist has certainly not lost anything in her aging process, now releasing on her own label, it appears she has the freedom to cover tunes that fully speak to her, not confined by the constraints of genre, but sticking to the essence of the songs and the joy of her own renderings.  I know in the music world, everything must have a label, but in this case let us just say; a classic voice we all have enjoyed for many years, has provided us with a collection of songs to love, by a highly talented songstress.

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