Amen

Paula Cole Band

Imago / Warner Brothers Records, 1999

http://paulacole.com

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/31/1999

Paula Cole's last album, This Fire, was a brilliant piece of music, though a bit painful to listen to sometimes; Cole's high-school-art-student mixture of naivete and idealism grated occasionally, but mostly it shone like passion and truth, rare in this day and age of manufactured music. So when Amen was announced, my household pre-ordered it, to see what the earnest Cole had come up with.

I have to admit, it's an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying bag. While This Fire was a Lilith Fair fan's best hope, the usual collection of pop and acoustic folk, Amen is almost a rhythm and blues album -- the album's opener, "I Believe In Love", could have been lifted straight from the Philadelphia Sound of the late seventies. When the album isn't rhythm and blues, it's experimental, daring, and different. Cole's not resting on the laurels of "I Don't Wanna Wait", and she should get credit for her courage.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

She should also get credit for her light touch on the CD's production -- her sound is crystalline, lacking the muddiness that plagues female vocalists, and her mix of instruments is perfect. Whatever its other merits or lack thereof, Amen sounds good musically -- something to be thankful for, so the experimentation of the music can rise or fall on its own merits. The problem is that those merits are too few and too far between.

It's very hard to argue the power and sincerity in Cole's music, but you can argue whether it's any good -- and the answer on Amen is, to be blunt, only sometimes. "Rhythm Of Life" is a jazz/hip-hop testimony to Cole's religious faith, heartfelt and complex, but it could have done with a bit less rapping and a bit more singing. (It's not that Cole can't rap, though she ain't Queen Latifah, but she sings better). "Pearl" is a well-written reflection on being a female musician, but lacks punch in the long run. "La Tonya"'s tale of ghetto life in the end leaves you a bit short and unsatisfied, never making you feel the pain that's behind it. Then there are the songs that work without any mistakes: "I Believe In Love,""Free,""Amen" and and the funky "God Is Watching." Finally, my momma said if you can't say something nice, don't say it, so I'm not mentioning "Suwanee Jo."

Amen is well named. It is a testimony to Cole's growing religious faith, a strong and emphatic statement about what's important to Paula Cole as an artist and a person, and at its core an exposition on belief. It has some problems as a work of music, though, and because of that, caveat emptor must be invoked; in some ways artists as disparate as Stevie Wonder and Amy Grant have been over this territory already, and mapped it in a more accessible fashion. Let's hope next time the Paula Cole Band remembers that.

Rating: C+

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© 1999 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Imago / Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.