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Paula Cole reveals much more in Portland Mercury Q&A

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One of the most emotionally crushing songs to be released this year comes from a somewhat surprising source: singer/songwriter Paula Cole. At least, it will come as a shock to anyone who only knows the 51-year-old for her early hits "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" and "I Don't Want To Wait" (the latter forever remembered as the theme song to teen drama Dawson's Creek). But throughout her discography, Cole has exposed fresh emotional and psychological wounds, from the damage she inflicts on herself ("It's me who is my enemy/me who beats me up," she sings on "Me," a track from her 1996 album This Fire) to, on her 2015 album 7, the agony of a fraying marriage ("How can you say the word ‘divorce'?/How can you come around then later/with flowers and empty apologetic words").

On "Silent," the haunting centerpiece of her latest album Revolution, she reveals much more and to much more devastating effect. Using a nursery rhyme-like melody, Cole recounts moments from her past that, at the time, struck her dumb. During one verse, that means those simple, relatable pangs of self-doubt as she spends time among the parents of her children's friends. But the gentle, yet bruising impact comes earlier, when she sings of being sexually assaulted by a tour manager while on the road in Europe. Her description of the incident is detailed, unblinking, and hard to shake off.

That feeling resonates throughout Revolution even as Cole's songs take on more universal concerns and attempts to shake our often-complacent personalities out of our collective stupor and toward positive action. By encouraging something as simple as "universal empathy" on the Bob Marley-inspired song of the same name and turning the spiritual maxims of a Buddhist text into a beautiful piano ballad, the entire album becomes challenging and enriching in equal measures.

Ahead of her performance on Friday at the Walters Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro, Cole spoke with me about her new album, refusing to stay silent, and her new personal mantra: "I'm 51 and fuck it."

CLICK HERE FOR Portland Mercury Q&A