Paula Cole's story isn't all that unique, really, except when most working women decide to take time off or put their career on the back burner to raise a family, they aren't walking away from a burgeoning music career that blended both popular success and critical acclaim.
Yet, the 44-year-old Rockport native had already performed as the opening act for Peter Gabriel, sang a duet with Melissa Etheridge on VH1, released three Top 40 singles (including "I Don't Want to Wait" and "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"), toured with Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair and won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist all before she turned 30.
That's when she took a hiatus to become a mother to her daughter Sky. While her career never reached the same stratosphere, Cole (who plays at the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley on Jan. 19 in a show rescheduled from August) is happy with the work-life balance she has created.
She's playing about 50 dates per year these days, mostly in "small theaters and supper clubs." We spoke in advance of the postponed show about her career, finding that balance between mother and performer (she's also raising two stepchildren, ages 10 and 11, on a part-time basis in addition to her 15-year-old daughter),
"I read an Atlantic Monthly article on why women can't have it all and I very much relate," Cole said. "I'm constantly trying to find that balance between family and work."
Unlike artists such as Pat Benatar and Alison Krauss, who bring their children with them on the road, her daughter stays with Cole's parents when she's on the road. "It works better for us that way," Cole said. "She loves them so much and it frees me to do those 50 shows. I keep this career going. It feels so good. I love to sing."
Cole didn't have much inspiration to draw from in terms of being a working mother. "There are very few positive women role models. "You're either single and didn't have kids, like Bonnie Raitt, or you have kids like Pat Benatar and work a half-time schedule (Benatar pretty much limited her touring to summer shows while her daughter was in school)."
Cole released an album called Amen in 1999 just after her daughter was born, but it failed to make much of a dent on the charts. After another long hiatus, she released Courage in 2007. Her fifth studio album, Ithaca, came out in 2010 and she's expected to release her next album, Raven, sometime this year. She organized a KickStarter campaign to fund its production in September and has since reached her goal of $50,000.
When she was going through the hiatus and then the last two albums struggled to generate sales, Cole said she thought about retiring. "I've really thought about giving it up, but I came back because I love music. I'm completely unhappy without music in my life. I will keep going. It's hard on my ego sometimes, but I will know when I die, I tried my best."
As she sings in "I Don't Want to Wait," "I don't want to wait for our lives to be over. Will it be yes or will it be sorry?" For Paula Cole, it's yes.
The Paula Cole Trio performs at the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $38 and can be purchased at www.bullrunrestaurant.com.