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Paula Cole's career simmers along

Sparked by an incendiary first single, Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?, Paula Cole's album This Fire is lighting up radio, making an impact for the singer/songwriter nearly three years after her debut.

Cole's new level of success comes after a somewhat rocky commercial start. The artist's ironically titled first album, Harbinger, was released in July 1994 by the Imago Recording Co. and garnered critical acclaim. The album suffered from a false start, however, after Imago lost its distribution deal with BMG. Warner Bros. later rereleased the album in conjunction with Imago.

Still, the artist says she is better for the wear. "At the time, it was really difficult, but I think it taught me a lot of stoicism," says Cole.

"I appreciate the slowness of my career and how it's come about in a more old-fashioned way," she adds. "I've been able to tour with a lot of people and observe what's going on, and I have a giant, loyal fan base that was developed through word-of-mouth and performing. I want an enduring career, not a quick run."

Cole, who says she now feels "electric fire" in venues when she plays Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?, says people may be responding to a number of different elements in the song.

"Every person's interpretation is subjective," she says. "My personal meaning was more about melancholy and sarcasm and taking a look at the spoon-fed media image society gives us of womanhood and manhood . . . but I think some women interpret it from the perspective of "I'm looking for my gentleman,' or men who think of themselves as their girlfriend's cowboys."

The artist, who is playing club dates, will embark this summer on the Lilith Fair tour, which features Sarah McLachlan, Jewel and Emmylou Harris, among others.