The earth started shaking when Paula Cole and Bobby Colomby first met—literally. "It was 1994, and I had just seen her perform for the first time in Los Angeles," Blood, Sweat & Tears co-founder

The earth started shaking when Paula Cole and Bobby Colomby first met—literally. "It was 1994, and I had just seen her perform for the first time in Los Angeles," Blood, Sweat & Tears co-founder Colomby says. "I went backstage to be introduced, and as we shook hands, things started rattling. It was an earthquake."

Years later, a reunion between Cole and Colomby would again be accompanied by some serious shifting, if this time only on a metaphorical level. "In 2004, I got an e-mail from Bobby wanting to know what I was up to," Cole says. "I had last seen him in '97, and I was in a far different place. I wasn't doing music anymore, and I told him I wasn't sure I ever wanted to again."

Although she did not cut ties with Warner Bros. until 2003, Cole had walked away from the business years earlier after her third release failed to match the success of its predecessor, 1996's "This Fire." That album catapulted Cole into the spotlight, earning her two hit singles and several Grammy Award nominations. It has sold 1.64 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Cole says she had "worked brutally" in the years between her 1994 debut "Harbinger" and 1999's "Amen," but never felt she "was seen for the depth of my musicianship. I felt like a race horse forced to plow a field in the pop market, and I realized I was hurting too much. All I could do was stop caring."

Cole left New York for Los Angeles and turned her attention to a marriage and raising a child, but was soon faced with managing her daughter's severe asthma and an increasingly troubled relationship with her husband. With superb timing, it was then that Colomby stepped back into the picture. "I wanted her to sing on an album I was producing," Colomby says. "I called her manager only to find out he was no longer managing her. He was very cryptic. He just said, 'Paula could use a friend.' "

Colomby was shocked when he reached Cole. "I had no idea she hadn't been singing. I thought that was crazy," he says. Convinced she was too good to quit, he persisted until she agreed to do a session. Cole says Colomby was "so ebullient, positive, that it was like the sunshine was coming back into my life. It was fun and refreshing working with him. I had a realization that at the heart of it, I did still care."

Cole soon started co-writing new material with a select group of songwriters, and, in the meantime, Colomby inked her a new deal with Columbia. A finished album, aptly titled "Courage," ended up sitting on a shelf as Sony and BMG merged, but ultimately found a new home at Decca/Universal.

"Courage" runs the gamut from such classy smooth jazz-tinged entries as "Lovelight" to such Southern gothic-tinged affairs as "Comin' Down." Elsewhere, gentle bossa beats and lovely acoustic shuffles seem well-suited for AC or adult top 40 radio. First single "14," meanwhile, steadily builds its graceful midtempo to a fiery final verse: "This mighty woman's ready to explode/Fire here below the surface of my volcano."

Dates in support of the album are still being lined up, but its expected that Cole will tour through the summer.

Cole ruminates, "I'm a 39-year-old woman in a sexist, ageist business given a golden second chance, and I'm profoundly grateful for that. I hope music continues to bring me joy. And I hope people still want to listen."