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Paula Cole

New England-bred singer and songwriter Paula Cole makes it clear on her two solo albums, including the recent "This Fire" (Imago/WB), that when it comes to the road of life, she doesn't know which way to walk. Unfortunately, Cole doesn't seem to know what contemporary music fans want from her, either. Cole's first solo album, 1994's "Harbinger" (Imago), was an understated and personal affair that was lost amidst her record company's financial struggles. Taking no chances this time, Cole stripped away most of the nuance and naked emotion that marked that album and took a much more direct approach.

Cole, who was a mainstage performer on the Lilith Fair tour this summer, now approaches recording and performing with a marked lack of subtlety. At the almost-full Wiltern on Tuesday, she injected nearly every tune with repetitious vocal histrionics — screeches, howls and hoots that were intended to be dramatic but had an opposite, dulling effect.

But you wouldn’t know it from some of the unrestrained fans in the crowd who shouted praise at everything the Berklee School of Music grad did. “Armpit hair and all,” she offered, lifting her arms to thunderous applause.

Her apt but rather lifeless backing band, playing beneath an array of hanging women’s clothing, tried but failed to establish any sort of momentum, often because their boss had stopped to talk. An occasional blues jam offered a refreshing change of pace.

“Where Have All the Cowboys Gone,” Cole’s one hit, answered its own question as patrons, bored with the singer’s one-dimensional style, began to leave following the song’s mid-set perf.

Paula Cole

Wiltern Theatre; 2,344 seats; $27.50 top

Production: Presented by Coors, KYSR, Avalon, Universal. Band: Cole, Kevin Berry, Mark Brown, Jay Bellerose. Reviewed Oct. 28, 1997.

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