Holly Cole

One musical mystery that audiophiles and serious music fans of all stripes can relate to is why singer Holly Cole did not/has not become a bigger star. Her voice is expressive in the extreme. She has taste in material that is both adventurous and impeccable. Her records have always been very well-recorded. And she's a charismatic live performer.

One clue was unwittingly provided by Universal Music when I asked for a SoundCloud link to a track from Don't Smoke In Bed, her 1993 album that has just been re-released in gorgeously rich sounding 200-gram vinyl, housed, of course, in an au courant, Stoughton tip-on jacket by Analogue Productions. My inquiry for the link was met with polite questions about what my article was about. Now I axed ya, what could it possibly be about? A hard-hitting expose about how Universal Music and Holly Cole in particular have sabotaged and undermined the foundations of all that we hold dear and deliberately brought on the apocalypse? C'mon! It's a review, positive in the extreme, of a record that's more than 20 years old.

This resistance was especially odd considering that much of the record is readily available for listening on YouTube courtesy of Universal Music. Baffling moves like this have, over the years, made me wonder what business the music "business" is actually in, because at times it doesn't seem to be about selling music.

Another clue as to why Cole is not a bigger name in the female jazz singer world, and it's entirely conceivable that I could be a vocal minority of one wondering about this, lies in the fact that at least one tour was canceled because the Canadian Cole had US visa problems.

And then there's the old "too adventurous for her own good" trap. Perhaps her most famous and accomplished record is Temptation, a record of Tom Waits covers. While it certainly made a splash among indie rock fans and Waitsian connoisseurs, jazz fans may have considered it a bridge too far. Originally issued on CD in 1995 by Metro Blue (an offshoot of Capitol Records), Temptation has become an audiophile hit thanks to Classic Records who reissued it as a now-long-out-of-print single LP edition that routinely sells for $200 or more online. A super deluxe boxed set version, also from Classic but with eight 200-gram LPs cut at 45rpm, now goes for somewhere north of $300. Analogue Productions, which bought Classic Records in 2010, has previously reissued the album on SACD and as a high-resolution download. Now there are plans afoot at Analogue Productions to reissue both the 331/3rpm and 45rpm LP versions of Temptation in the near future using the same metal parts as Classic but pressed at QRP in Salina, KS. The 331/3 Classic version of Temptationwas mastered by Doug Sax. The 45rpm version was mastered by Bernie Grundman.

Whatever the reason is that Cole hasn't quite gotten her due, this hugely gifted native Nova Scotian has made many of her best records with the trio of bassist David Piltch and pianist Aaron Davis, the third of which was Don't Smoke in Bed. While she's always been more of a stylist than a belter, Cole's stylizing, paired with her adventurous tastes in material, have made every record she's recorded worth at least a listen. Her way, for example, with those Waits originals, not a place most female singers will go, has always been starkly original and so obviously right. On her most recent record, 2012's Night she wends her slinky way through Waits' "Walk Away" and even takes a successful shot at Captain Beefheart's "Love Lies."

On Don't Smoke in Bed, she works in a tango flavored groove in the Rodgers and Hart number, "Ev'rything I've Got," a tune previously covered by Ella Fitzgerald. "Get Out of Town" is Holly in her sexy, slinky mode. And then there's a big soaring rendition of Johnny Nash's 1972 hit "I Can See Clearly Now," which has become one of her best-known covers. Cole's talent is such that, my vote for this album's most successful number goes to her slow and very sweet rendition of "Tennessee Waltz," a sturdy tune that's been recorded at least 12 thousand times, most memorably by Patti Page. In her version, Cole actually digs new meaning out of this old Pee Wee King chestnut, and makes listening to it again a fresh experience.

Don't Smoke in Bed was reissued in 2001 on a 200-gram 331/3 LP by Classic Records and was later reissued in 2009 by the same label cut at 45rpm in a 4-LP Clarity vinyl boxed set. Both versions were mastered by Bernie Grundman. The new AP version of Don't Smoke in Bed uses the same parts as the Classic reissues. The album is also available on the Analogue Productions website as an SACD, a single-rate DSD download, and a 24-bit/176kHz download. Listen below to her terrific take on Ben Watt's beautiful "Don't Let the Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart."

Metalhead's picture

Great talent. Bought temptation on cd back when. Went down to a friends and heard the vinyl and could not put the cd back in the system after that. Know first hand why the vinyl is pricey not only for rarity but also for killer sound quality.

Picked Don't Smoke in Bed up on vinyl a few months ago. Superb pressing. Flat, Quiet, and wonderfully done. A fantastic artist and spin. Great job by AP on this one!

Happy Listening

Jay Cook's picture

Back in 93, when I was representing API (Mirage, Energy, Sound Dynamics), they brought Holly, David, and Aaron to CES for a private gig at a reception for API dealers. Fell in love then, and have continued to be fan and evangelist. Glad to see audiophile releases of her work.