American Quilt

Paula Cole

675 Records, 2021

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


There seems to be a point in time when many artists decide it’s time to record some sort of standards CD. Usually it’s a few years after their last hit, when they have acquired a certain gravitas and more mature outlook on life. Linda Ronstadt had not one, but two of these that were big hits: 1987’s “Canciones De Mi Padre” and 1983’s “What’s New.” Chicago did an entire album of big band tunes. Hell, Lady Gaga got cozy with Tony Bennett. It seems to be a stage of some sort.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It would be easy, then, to dismiss Paula Cole’s latest CD, American Quilt, as more of the same. The cover has her wrapped in a quilt and starting thoughtfully off into space and her tastes and musical styles have always been eclectic, if not downright quirky.

That – would be a mistake.

Reason #1: her voice. It has become a supple, limber, and elegant instrument; I don’t know what her range is now, but it has to be considerable. Far from the days when she was positioned as a sort of Americana Alanis Morissette, she has matured into an expressive and talented vocalist who can be soft as goose down or bitter as gall, depending on the need.

Reason #2: the songs. For a standards album, these are somewhat…non-standard. Some are traditional (“Wayfaring Stranger”), some are traditional but known best by one version (“God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” popularized by the late Johnny Cash), and some are a touch obscure (“You Don’t Know What Love Is,” originally written for an Abbott and Costello film). A surprising few come from the African-American experience: two Bessie Smith songs, one Billie Holliday (“Good Morning Heartache,” the best thing on the CD), and one song about escaping slaves (“Steal Away/Hidden In Plain Sight”). Cole handles them all with style and aplomb.

However, some of the arrangements leave something to be desired. The traditional “Shenandoah” is muddy and slow (which I suppose might be appropriate for a river). It comes off lugubrious, and drags the energy of the CD down. Cole snarls and brags her way through “Black Mountain Blues” nicely, but the blues guitar is lost in the mix a bit. These are minor considerations at best, so don’t let them scare you off.

American Quilt is the latest offering from an artist whose growth astonishes me every time I listen to her. Check it out.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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