Every time I want to write about something, I get discouraged. A quick Google search on the topic will show that whatever it is I wanted to say will have already been said by someone else, better.
This past year, especially, when it came to political insights, I was always beat to the punch by columnists and bloggers.
But when it comes to turning people on to Holly Cole, I seem to have hit paydirt.
"Have you ever heard of Holly Cole?" I ask jazz enthusiasts. I'm surprised at how many say no.
"Oh you gotta hear her," I tell them.
What I should say is, you gotta see her.
She's one of those artists that I was first drawn to because of her looks. I get a lot of my music from the public library, and so it doesn't cost me a penny to try out any book, author or movie. I drew a cartoon to that effect showing a mom and kid, arms filled with books, at the library checkout. The kid asks the mom, "How can we afford all this?" Point: If you're going to impulse "buy" -- do it at the library!
So I grabbed my first Holly Cole CD based upon this cover. I'll admit, she had a hot quality, reminded me of an ex-girlfriend, and she led a jazz trio. At that time, I was just beginning to seriously explore jazz. By that I mean, I was a novice trying to take jazz seriously. I remember when Rolling Stone used to do its year-end readers polls and fusion artists like Chuck Mangione and Weather Report would win jazz artist of the year, basically because the rock fan readers didn't know any other jazz artists. So I perused the well-stocked shelves of the library and began trying new things. So as I grabbed the familiar names -- Davis, Coltrane, Jamal -- up pops this Holly Cole. And when I heard that she sang as sultry as she looked, I finally had something to replace that Julie London album I'd worn the needle clear through the grooves.
Holly Cole has a good range, a deep timbre and an original way with interpreting the great old standards and show tunes as well as contemporary songs. That's describing many singers. But who among them is brave and weird enough to record an album of Tom Waits songs, which makes me not only want to hear the music, but drink with her. Not because the subject of Tom Waits songs is often drinking, but because any person who would think it's a cool project would be fun to have a drink with.
She's got an odd way of bending words, tomboyish, borderline dorky, like she's singing so beautifully but suddenly gets embarrassed by how beautiful it is that she makes a husky, clowning sound with her voice. It's not old school quality-but-clowny like Betty Hutton. It's smarter, better, deeper than that. It's a writer's irony, so I'm not really serious about saying that she, a professional singer, is embarrassed by singing well. Dean Martin used to do it all the time. In fact Dean Martin wouldn't even start a song straight. He'd start clowning around right away, and the only way you could enjoy his performance is if you knew his recorded version by heart and referred to it in your head while he clowned around. Trivia: The only song Dean Martin ever sang onstage seriously all the time was "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," a 1931 E.Y. "Yip" Harburg and Jay Gorney song about how laborers were milked dry and tossed aside when prosperity waned. I often wondered why Martin respected that song and that song only, and I can only figure that he grew up in Steubenville, a steel town, and knew first hand at an impressionable young age what it was like to see proud, hardworking men begging for handouts.
Holly Cole isn't even fooling around, isn't hamming it up or mugging or goofing, when she mixed even with a few lyrics the sounds of songbird and dufist. It's just her sound. And I love it because it doesn't sound like anything else I've ever heard.
Jewel kind of does the same thing. She, too, can turn a line into a goulash mixed with the siren of a soprano, the growl of a bear like in and a nyah-nyah nasal thing she does like a school yard artist who is being excluded from playing games with the popular girls, but who never wanted to join them in the first place.
Holly Cole is popular in Canada. She should be better known here, too. So no matter what kind of music you like, if you appreciate originality, and if you haven't listened to Holly Cole, you should.
Oh, you already have!
Mark Morelli is a New York Times Bestseller reader.