Paula Cole sang backup for Peter Gabriel in 1993-94, performing for tens of thousands of people in large stadiums around the world. Then she’d come home to the United States and tour little clubs by herself, supporting her first solo album, “Harbinger.”
Twenty-five years later, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter just released her 10th album, “Revolution.” Despite the success of her hit singles from the late 1990s – “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and Dawson’s Creek television show theme “I Don’t Want to Wait” – she still finds her home in intimate spaces like Caffè Lena.
Dressed in leather pants and a denim shirt, Cole gave back-to-back performances at the Saratoga Springs folk venue on Friday night, accompanied on upright bass by Ross Gallagher and on guitar by Chris Bruce. Both shows were well-attended by fans who listened intently to her piano-accompanied ballads and descriptive tales about the origins of her songs.
Before getting into new material from “Revolution,” Cole started off her 8:30 pm second show with a couple covers from her 2017 “Ballads” album, including classic country song “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobby Gentry and the Nina Simone-popularized Civil Rights anthem “I Wish (I Knew How It Feels to Be Free).”
Introducing “Blues in Gray” from her latest album, Cole talked about her great-grandmother Charlotte, a “brilliant pianist” who nonetheless had her dreams thwarted by the expectations of her era.
“The central force of [the new album] is about giving up silence and speaking out,” she said of the lengthy piano ballad, “Silent,” which forms a thoughtful centerpiece of the “Revolution” album and presents multiple perspectives about family cycles of abuse.
“I’m just feeling the spirit of Bob Dylan… it’s in the room,” she said before performing an emotional cover of the true-life “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” in the room where the legendary Dylan once performed at the invitation of Caffè Lena founder Lena Spencer.
The tempo picked up on Cole’s 1996 song “Carmen” and the clap-along single “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone,” from the same album, for which she stood, swayed and performed the whispery, spoken word parts of the hit song.
Cole returned to the piano for “Happy Home,” a song from her first album, which the singer-songwriter said caused discomfort for her mother when it first came out due to its confessional honesty. Cole followed with “Woodstock,” the disillusioned ‘60s anthem by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
She closed her set, which lasted a little more than an hour, with “Me,” an ode to the need for self-affirmation and self-love, and her biggest hit, “I Don’t Want to Wait,” which she said she wrote for her grandparents. The crowd stood at the end, showering Cole with a standing ovation.