Paula Cole prefers not standing in fame’s intense light.

The 1997 Grammy winner for best new artist may be less sought-after than she was in the 1990s but that doesn’t mean the singer of “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want to Wait” isn’t working. Cole will sing at the Manship Theatre on Thursday, July 26. And last year she released her eighth album, “Ballads.”

Cole sees her current work as her second music career. It began in 2007 after a nearly eight-year hiatus.

“As quick as the first career was, the second has been much slower,” she said from her home north of Boston. “But I have fans for life now. Real fans. Not fair-weather fans who come for the hits. They’ve been moved by the music and helped by the music. Just as I’ve been helped by the music. That gives my life meaning.”

Cole launched her comeback with her 2007 album, “Courage.” The time away that preceded “Courage” was good for her and essential for her now 16-year-old daughter, Sky.

“It ended up being longer than I probably wanted because of my daughter’s asthma,” Cole said. “She was having asthma episodes every day. The timing wasn’t right for me to go on the road and bring her into that. She needed a long time with me to be healthy and ready for life.”

The royalties that Cole received after her 1997 hit, “I Don’t Want to Wait,” became the theme for TV’s “Dawson’s Creek” and made staying home with her daughter possible.

In the 1990s, Cole released two Top 20 hits and the double-platinum album, “This Fire.” She toured with Sarah McLachlan’s “Lilith Fair” and released an expectations-defying third album, 1999’s “Amen.”

“I didn’t want to make another ‘This Fire,’ ” Cole said. “I wanted to make a sociopolitical and spiritual album. Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye inspired me and I was influenced by hip-hop and neo-soul.”

But “Amen” wasn’t as successful as “This Fire.”

“People didn’t know what to make of a white woman associated with 'Lilith Fair' making music like that,” Cole said. “But I didn’t fit in a box. And I wasn’t really liking the career unfolding before me. It was so different from what I’d imagined. I needed to stop. I needed to be authentic to myself first.”

Cole didn’t return to the stage until Feb. 16, 2007.

“I was terrified that first night,” she recalled. “The longer you stay away from it, the harder it is to get back.”

Cole also knew she needed to perform again.

“I needed my strength back,” she said. “Music gives me strength.”

Despite the hiatus, Cole always aspired to a long career. When she became pregnant with her daughter, however, the music business reacted as if she was finished.

“I got letters from my publishing company saying ‘It was nice to work with you,’ ” she remembered. “I was like, ‘OK. Do you think I’m hanging up my musicianship and everything I’ve dedicated myself to now that I have a child?’ It was so funny and preposterous to me.”

At 50, Cole says she has more range than ever.

“I have more bottom in my voice and I have beautiful highs,” she said. “I know things that protect my instrument and I know some tricks. But a lot of it is just pure feeling and God-given energy. It’s my soul. And maybe I just happen to be one of those full-bodied cabernets that needed a long time on the shelf to open up.”


PAULA COLE 

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26

WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge

COST: $40-$55 plus fees

INFO: manshiptheatre.org