By Martin Huxley
According to Paula Cole, the biggest challenge she faced in making her third and latest album Amen was in accentuating the positive.
"It was really important for me to make an uplifting record, especially now with the coming of the millennium," says the former high-school class president and prom queen and Berklee College of Music graduate. "I think people are feeling a lot of conflicting emotions and contemplating their mortality a little more than ever before. With that in mind, I wanted to make a positive contribution through music�an album that fills people with hope and makes them want to dance through their living room."
Cole has ample reason to feel upbeat. Her critically acclaimed 1994 debut album Harbinger preceded the career break of being invited by Peter Gabriel to replace Sinead O'Connor as backup vocalist on Gabriel's 1995 tour. The double platinum 1996 sophomore effort This Fire established Cole as a star, yielding the hits "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" and "I Don't Want to Wait." The album also garnered seven Grammy nominations, earning Cole Best New Artist honors.
Amen�which is credited to the Paula Cole Band in acknowledgement of the singer/songwriter's longstanding sidemen, guitarist Kevin Barry and drummer Jay Bellerose�adds some distinctive new stylistic elements, like the orchestral funk of the album's first single, "I Believe In Love." The album also boasts guest appearances by Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins of TLC, who contributes backing vocals on the anthemic "Be Somebody," and Gang Starr's DJ Premier, who scratches on the album's title track and the widescreen "Rhythm of Life."
"Rhythm of Life" also finds Cole making her rapping debut. "I love hip-hop and just decided to go for it," she explains. "I don't care if I get criticized for it, that's what moves me."
The aforementioned tracks, and the album-closing "God Is Watching," offer ample evidence of the artist's desire to edify her fans, and her faith in music's capacity for healing.
"There's a responsibility that comes with success and I don't want to be wasteful with that platform," Cole states. "As corny as it sounds, I want to help the world a little. I want to do some good."