1. Her new album, Raven, is her most confident and enjoyable to listen to since This Fire.
Releasing her new LP on her own label is the best artisitic choice Cole has made since writing and producing her breakthrough, This Fire. This new album sounds relaxed, focused, and carefully assembled. Cole gives each song on Raven the right atmosphere in which to let the lyrics breathe, from the sexy and rootsy, "Billy Joe," to the heartbroken but beautiful, "Why Don't You Go" and the healing ballad, "Life Goes On;" the album has a cohesive Americana singer-songwriter aesthetic, despite exploring diverse themes. And the singer sounds better than ever, not straining so hard as she has on some of her records. Though Raven will likely get little critical attention this year, the album deserves more listeners.
2. Cole's older music still sounds pretty damn good.
This Fire remains her masterpiece--an art-pop gem that works a song-cycle about leaving home, growing up, and grappling with the hardships and pleasures of adulthood; all the tracks are masterpieces, but "Tiger, "Carmen," and "Me" sound especially good. Each of her follow-ups have standout tracks too, even if the albums don't always work as a whole. "Free," "Pearl," and "Be Somebody" from the under-appreaciated Amen are great examples of her strengths writing self-reflective songs. "Tomorrow I Will Be Yours" from Postcards from East Oceanside and "14" from Courage, as well as "Music in Me," "Something I've Gotta Say," and "Come On Inside" from Ithaca, show that her ability to write hooks has gotten better and better with time.
3. She sounds even better live than she does in recordings. It's worth every penny to see her in concert.
Cole is a charismatic performer, and an intimate live setting allows you to hear more of the textures in her voice than you sometimes can when she is placed in a more heavily produced recording. To her credit, her most recent recordings for Raven do allow you to hear more of her vocal textures, but even those cannot rival the experience of seeing her live. She has a warm and inviting presence on stage, and that presence enlivens her music.