Once ubiquitous, as her "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone" was a staple on adult alternative radio and "I Don't Wanna Wait" served as the soundtrack to turn of the millennium teen soap Dawson's Creek, Paula Cole suddenly disappeared after her third album, Amen, failed to live up to the commercial expectations set by her 1996 breakthrough, This Fire. Throughout the 2000s she stayed quiet, raising her newborn daughter as she worked toward reviving her muse, eventually resurfacing in 2007 -- a decade after the peak of her popularity -- with Courage, her first album for Decca and her first album in eight years. Immediately, it's apparent that this is worlds away from the stylized worldbeat and vague electronica leanings of Amen, never sounding as self-consciously restless as that album. Not that Cole has abandoned her refined eclecticism -- she dabbles in gentle bossa nova beats on "Hard to Be Soft," duetting with Brazilian singer Ivan Lins -- but never once does Cole sound as strained in incorporating hip-hop beats and electronic textures as she did on Amen. Instead, she sounds relaxed as she eases into a subdued collection of songs jazzy enough to justify Herbie Hancock's cameo on "Lonely Town." Such casual sophistication reigns here, but Courage doesn't sound like a clean break from her past, or a contrived attempt to refashion herself for Norah Jones' audience; the opening "Comin' Down" and the Patrick Leonard collaboration "14" sound like This Fire, only a little more settled yet managing to sidestep slickness while emphasizing her gentle, insinuating melodies. While Courage may stray into sleepiness on the ballads, it nevertheless always flows naturally even at its slowest moments and that comfortable feel is the most appealing thing about the record, since it's evident in the unhurried songs and the unstrained performances. It may be low-key, but Courage certainly qualifies as a successful comeback from a singer/songwriter who had seemed lost to the Lilith Fair era.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine