Wide-ranging Holly Cole 'uses' songs

March 12, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Holly Cole is the sort of singer whose work is not easily categorized.

When the Canadian singer began recording, reviewers reacted to her sultry, quietly swinging performances as if she were a jazz singer. "Which I don't think was accurate," says Cole of the assessment.

Later, as her repertoire broadened, and her trio became a quintet, Cole began to be called a pop singer. "Which I don't think is accurate, either," she says, and laughs.

So how, exactly, would Cole describe her music? "The only category I ever really liked was when somebody called the music 'romance noir,' " she says, over the phone from a tour stop in

San Francisco. "But really I don't feel the need to categorize myself. I think categories are a necessary evil, one that has been created by the music machine."

That's understandable, given the range of music Cole heard while growing up. The child of classical musicians, she listened to jazz and blues, rock and soul, classical and Celtic music, and absorbed it all with equal enthusiasm.

In that sense, it may be best simply to describe Cole as an interpretive singer, one whose reputation depends on what she can make of other people's songs.

"I use songs," she says. "I mean, I use them as a vehicle for whatever it is I want to do. So rather than go, 'OK, now how am I going to deliver this song?' [my approach] is more like, 'Well, how is this song going to serve me in doing what I want to do?' "

That's not to say that Cole imposes her own vision on the songs. "The songs themselves tell me what I'm going to want to express," she explains. "Songs strike me, and I think of different things that can be done with them."

As an example, she points to her version of "I've Just Seen a Face." In place of the breathless vigor of the Beatles' original, Cole brings a sultry soulfulness to the song, one which emphasizes the helpless attraction of the lyric.

Cole didn't come to her version immediately. "I had been re-listening to the Beatles, sort of rediscovering them, because I was such a big fan as a kid," she says. "That song struck me as one that could be done in a very different way, and in a way that I was interested in.

"And then, the text of the song actually happened to me. I saw a guy on a street, he saw me, we fell in love." Nor was it just a passing fancy. "That was a year and a half ago, and he's on the road with me now," she says.

In the interim, Cole shaped the song so that its sound and sense fit with what she had experienced - in other words, she made the song hers by making it suit her situation. "Since that song was sort of simmering in the back of my brain, it seemed to me that it was the right time to record it," she says.

"So that song has a very strong subtext, the way that I do it," she says. "But that's what I look for. That's what I desire to do.

"I'm not in it for just delivering the song, really."

Holly Cole

When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.

Where: Fletcher's

Tickets: $10

Call: 410-481-7328

Sundial: To hear excerpts from Holly Cole's current release, "Dark Dear Heart," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6158. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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