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Paula Held, “DRIVE” (Independent) – Fred Schmale

A refreshing and surprising debut from Austin, Texas, this ‘DRIVE’ of Paula Held. The CD was produced and the songs on the CD were arranged by the great Stephen Doster, who played the guitar on Nanci Griffith’s Nashville-debut Once in a Very Blue Moon, dating from 1984. Doster himself nowadays plays and works in Austin too, and encounters a growing demand as producer.

Let me introduce Paula Held to you. She is the daughter of a father who taught music and composed Music and a vocalist mother (classical music), both her parents weren’t afraid to experiment with music and had an open mind for other cultures. Paula studied the piano and violin and (later) harp in her childhood. She spent a lot of time in Spain, where Spanish got to be her first language. After returning to the States she got her first guitar at the age of fourteen. From that moment on Paula starts writing her own songs in addition to her poetry writing. Her parents divorced and Paula had to stay alternately with her father and her mother in different locations. She finished off High School in Miami and went her own way from then on. She ended up in Tallahassee (the capital of Florida), where she did her first shows and where she started liking jazz. In 2004 she moved to Austin, where she has been working ever since.

Let’s go back to Paula’s CD ‘DRIVE.’ To my mind Paula Held adds new ideas to the jazz-related work of now famous female artists like Norah Jones, Diana Krall and Madeleine Peyroux. And, after listening many times to her fine CD, I can honestly state: ‘Paula is not less gifted, she is just less famous.’ Her songs are beautiful, the melody lines fine, her voice is flexible and sultry, the accompaniment is excellent with leading parts for keys-man Red Young (listen to his fine work on the hammond organ) and wonderful Doster on guitars. In a couple of songs we hear trumpet player Ephraim Owens. Drummer J. J. Johnson and double-bassist Chris Maresh provide a solid foundation. Dennis Ludeker (of South Austin Jug Band fame) plays the strings on some songs.

Paula’s lyrics are surprisingly different, she uses unexpected metaphors to please the open-minded and interested listener. Take for instance the first lines of the dreamy ballad ‘Winter Blossom’: ‘The Musclewoods have all been dipped in mercury and silver. A black grackle cackles ‘neath a dove-grey sky. A restless patch of Black-eyed Susans lashes out in sprays of color, all decked out like a baptist’s daughter, gone out the window to meet her lover, underneath the wistful gaze of Winter’s leaden eye. Every region of my skin you draped in burgundy and velvet, and removed the crown of reason that I wore’. I really love this kind of music, it’s poetic and has depth.

To summarize: ‘Excellent songwriting, great atmosphere. Paula catches us with her delightful jazzy debut album’. Listen to her on CD-baby.”

Fred Schmale,, The Netherlands