Thursday, January 14, 2010

Holly Cole: A Dougsploitation Diva

Presenting the return of a popular Dougsploitation feature (popular with me at least) – my ongoing tribute to the talented women who I turn to as an antidote to many of overrated cookie-cutter disposable “divas” in today’s music industry.

I have been a fan of Canadian songstress Holly Cole for over 15 years now. I don’t know where I first heard her intelligent and sophisticated voice, but it has left a lasting impression on me.

What I love most about Holly is that she has the ability to take a well-worn standard and make it seem brand new. It’s almost like she deconstructs the lyrics and discovers new ways to sing them, in ways that others singers just don’t have the insight to do.
Her voice is both sensuous and innocent at the same time. She has a sense of honesty in her delivery that really makes you understand these songs even though you may have heard them a hundred times before. The influence of jazz legend Betty Carter can be heard in many of her early recordings.

Her 1990 album with the Holly Cole Trio, “Girl Talk” featured covers of Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown”. These takes are so unique, they don’t even feel like covers.

1993’s “Blame It On My Youth” is a jazzy outing with the Trio and included songs by such diverse writers like Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett , as well as show tunes like as "If I Were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls and "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady and even a cover of "Trust In Me", from Disney's The Jungle Book. My favorite track is Holly’s version of “Calling You” from the film BAGDAD CAFÉ.

“Don’t Smoke in Bed” (also 1993) brought us Holly’s iconic version of “I Can See Clearly Now” as well as the most sobering version of “Que Sera Sera ever recorded.
In 1995, “Temptation” covered 16 Tom Waits songs. “Tango Til They’re Sore” is the stand-out track. 1996 brought us “It Happened One Night,” a wonderful live recording highlighted by Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.”

Holly went more contemporary in 1997 with “Dark Dear Heart” - featuring a eclectic mix including “Onion Girl” – which was used in the wacky Elisabeth Shue film MOLLY. You can read my review of MOLLY here.

“Romantically Helpless” followed in 2000, mixing Paul Simon with standards by Sammy Cahn, Stephen Sondheim and Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer.

“Shade” came in 2003 and the self-titled “Holly Cole” arrived in 2007- including a collection of standards like “Charade”, “Reaching For The Moon”, “I Will Wait For You” as well her first self composed song entitled “Larger Than Life”. Each one of these albums is a gem, a fine blend of jazz, pop, folk and other influences make them a smart alternative to the tired screeching divas that crowd the pop charts today.

I’ve been privileged to see Holly perform live a few times, and look forward to the day when I can be in her presence once again. You can check out more Holly here.

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