Erin Cole-Baker was born in California, raised in New Zealand, moved back to America to make music her career and ended up in Central Oregon because of a folk festival (with a six-month detour on the East Coast prompted by, yes, the pursuit of music).
There are a few things — family, faith, her husband Bruce — that help determine Cole-Baker's path. And music is right there every step of the way.
“I will be playing music for the rest of my life,” says the banner across the top of her Web site, www.erincolebaker.com.
For Cole-Baker, 28, playing her songs is about more than money or fame. It's about pursuing a passion and being happy. Her time on the East Coast and immediately after was marked by bouts with depression, and she believes her new album, “Talon and Spur,” can be a beacon for others who fight similar battles.
“I think that most of my songs tie into that kind of theme of keeping on track or just living life with vision,” she said. “I think that when you're following what you're good at and you're passionate about, that helps other people to look at that and go, ‘Wow. I can do that too. It's possible to do what I love.' And I think that makes the world better.”
Inspirational aspects aside, Cole-Baker's tunes make the world better. She grew up in a musical family and learned to play piano at a very young age, and she started writing songs on guitar while in college. Since then, she's gone all Genghis Khan on a line of instruments, conquering the banjo, mountain dulcimer and baritone ukulele.
Cole-Baker's many skills are evident on “Talon and Spur,” most notably her penchant for delicate, delectable melodies sung by one of the best voices in town. Her songs are simple wonders, a blend of acoustic Americana music and the winsome indie-folk of artists like Sufjan Stevens and The Weepies.
Or, they were. They still are, sort of.
But on the new album, Cole-Baker and co-producer Steven Tate (of Steve's Drum Studio on Wall Street) pumped up the arrangements a bit, playing percussion, upright bass and mandolin and bringing in Nashville-based guitar wizard Tim May to work six-string magic.
The result is music that's a tad punchier than Cole-Baker's previous solo work and the album she cut as part of The Erins, a duo she shared with Bend native Erin Zurflu until Zurflu moved to Washington, D.C., in 2007.
“With this album I was a little bit nervous about how people would react to it because the stuff that I've done in the past has been really minimal and stripped back,” Cole-Baker said. “Steven (Tate) was just super-encouraging with my songs. I know what I don't like when I hear it, but it's hard for me to say what I do want on a song because I'm kind of just used to hearing myself.
“Steven was just trying to help me sort out what I was doing with my music,” she said. “He wanted to get (the songs) fresh, with that essence (they have) when you first write them, and I was like, ‘No way, I need to practice.' But the ones we recorded that way I'm really happy with.”
There are a couple of classic, minimal Cole-Baker numbers on “Talon and Spur,” too. Overall, she says she's “really pleased with how it came out.”
Now the question is: What next? Cole-Baker is just back from a three-week tour of France, and she plans to head back to New Zealand early next year to release the CD there and hang out with her family, which is growing, she said.
“It's getting harder and harder to be away from home. I've got nieces and nephews being born and parents getting older,” she said.
At the same time, “we love Bend. We have a good group here,” she said. “I can just imagine if we go home more full time we'll be, like, ‘Ugh. We miss Bend.'”
She even wrote a song about that feeling; “Stuck In the Middle,” like most of Cole-Baker's songs, deals with life's trials and triumphs and staying true to one's heart.
So far, that method hasn't let her down. She looks back at her path so far and has no regrets, no matter how many times it hops across the globe.
“I don't have any more money than I ever used to, but does that matter? I love what I'm doing,” she said. “I'm going to be playing music for the rest of my life.”
-Ben Salmon the bulletin