Paula Cole’s plan for 2019 was to release an album of standards, a follow-up to “Ballads,” her 2017 collection made up mostly of jazz tunes.
“But I just feel that these times are … ,” Cole tells The Post, sighing and pausing, “they’re just incredible, and I just feel that I needed to speak out. I can’t be silent.”
So the Massachusetts singer-songwriter, known for the mid-’90s hits “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want to Wait,” released “Revolution,” a socially conscious album that tackles the issues of race, gender and abuse.
The heady album opens with “Revolution (Is a State of Mind),” featuring parts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” which he gave April 4, 1967 — exactly a year before his assassination — at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights.
The album, Cole says, “is also about finding empathy.”
“Even though I feel anger at times, I need to find hope, and I find that the words of Martin Luther King Jr. help me,” she says. “They’re still incredibly relevant and necessary.”
Another figure who looms large on “Revolution” is Cole’s great-grandmother Charlotte, one of the first women to be admitted to Yale’s general college. In the press notes that accompanied the album release, the song is said to describe “uncomfortable memories of being a witness to abuse and then a victim of it herself,” then learning to speak up — something practically impossible for the women of previous generations.
It’s not a coincidence that Cole released the album in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s there, yes. There is a call to vote, a call to speak, to unify, to not be intimidated, to be who you are.”
For many years, who Cole was was the woman who sang two smash hits — with “I Don’t Want to Wait” having the added distinction of being the theme song of angsty TV drama “Dawson’s Creek.” Both were on “This Fire,” her second album, released in 1996. The album earned seven Grammy nominations — including for producer of the year; Cole produced the record herself — and Cole was everywhere, including on the landmark Lilith Fair, the female-centric tour that also featured Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Sheryl Crow and Fiona Apple.
As she continued to release albums, she resented being known as a two-hit wonder.
“The con [to the success] is that I’m associated with only that, only ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ only the hits,” she says. “It bothered me so much that I thought about leaving my career multiple times.”
She eventually realized she had been “lucky” and embraced making music again after an eight-year break following the birth of her first child.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Cole’s debut album, “Harbinger.” She’s happy to celebrate the milestone — to an extent.
“I don’t want to live in the past too much because I feel like I have so much to say right now, I feel urgent and prolific and there are songs flowing through me right now,” says Cole. “I have a couple albums in my head. I have not felt this since my late 20s. My late 20s and early 50s,” she adds, laughing.
“Harbinger” was released as she was touring as a featured vocalist on Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World Live” tour.
“Peter asked me to join the tour just like that,” says Cole, 25 at the time. “Sinead O’Connor was leaving the tour. It was a huge opportunity. I flew to Mannheim, Germany, and had one rehearsal, then I was singing in front of 16,000 Germans that night.”
The former Genesis frontman “was very generous in sharing the spotlight,” says Cole, who sang duets with Gabriel, including the parts originally recorded by Kate Bush on his song “Don’t Give Up.” “The way he treated the band as a voice, as a collective voice, was really inspirational.”
She calls her current tour, which she’ll bring to (Le) Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village Thursday, her biggest since the ’90s.
“That’s why I’m here,” she says. “I haven’t been distracted by acting or a clothing line. I’m in it for the music. I love the music.”