NORFOLK, Conn. -- Now that Paula Cole is back, she continues to re-build her career on her own terms.
After recording a string of hits in the mid-and-late ‘90s, winning a Grammy for Best New Artist, and becoming closely associated with a generation of female artists rising to prominence at that time (she played on the first incarnation of the epochal Lilith Fair), Cole took an eight-year break from the music business. It was not at all clear she would ever return.
Prompted by a dissolving mar riage and the birth of her daughter, she made the hard choice to put her career on hold.
"That's true for so many career women, they have a child and unless you have some fabulous job that allows you a flexible schedule, the music business is not going to do that. It was like, ‘See ya'," she says in a telephone interview from her home in Beverly. "Especially with an eight-year hiatus. That's nuts. That's near-death in pop. And I didn't know if anyone would care on the other end."
Cole plays Infinity Hall on Sunday, with drummer Ben Whitman and guitarist Kevin Barry.
The time away was not entirely a choice. During her hiatus, she made two aborted attempts to record an album with her old label, Warner Brothers. But it wasn't jelling, and her relationship with the record company had deteriorated.
Finally, she came out with "Courage" on an indie label in 2007, and follow-up "Ithaca" three years later.
"This is, in a sense, the third phase," she says. "Now I'm going commando, and I just have to be smart and be more entrepreneurial. And lean. And I'm excited about it, really I am. I don't want to be a failed paradigm.
"I think there's opportunities to be had if you're smart and you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps to figure it out. ... I'm going to try the smaller model. I'll let you know how it pans out. I won't probably won't know for a couple years."
The next record, titled "Raven," will also cement Cole's new life phase as a prodigal resident of her hometown, more or less. (She lives a few towns over from Rockport, where she was raised.)
The connection isn't obvious at face value, but the title of her previous record, "Ithaca," is actually a reference to Rockport. She meant it in the sense of Odysseus, whose epic journey before returning home to Ithaca is the subject of Homer's "Odyssey."
"I'm back living in the North Shore suburbs of Massachusetts. That sounds like a death-like experience in a way, because I was relinquishing my young dreams. But I have new dreams. And all dreams tend to get ill-fitting when one grows and matures," she says, explaining that she left New York City to raise her daughter in a more hospitable setting and closer to family.
"It was a homecoming, it was me coming back full circle to my Ithaca, my home, after slaying dragons and being out in the world. I was out achieving a lot, being disappointed a lot, going through hard things like divorce and relocation."
Whatever her state of affairs, it's likely her fans will be kept up to date through her lyrics, which are often unflinchingly direct. Her last album includes exhortations like: "Thank you for my daughter. I have my girl, now leave my world, good luck back on the street."
Cole says it was harder to be so direct when the light of fame shone more brightly on her efforts. At this stage, she says, she's surrounded by her "career fans" and more comfortable.
"I've tried to be guarded when the spotlight's shone on me very brightly, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable to have attention," she explains. "This career is a second career. These are bookend careers, and I feel like I'm living a more authentic one. I can be my loving self and be honest about emotions. Art and music that's clever and hiding the feelings, that's not interesting. I like passion and honesty in music. Music to move hearts."