Though Canadian chanteuse Holly Cole and her longtime trio mates, pianist Aaron Davis and bassist David Piltch, released their first live album a few months ago, five years have passed since their last studio session. In the interim, Cole seems to have shifted focus from delightfully quirky to coolly mature, her voice now tinged with an enticing hint of gravel, her trademark slyness more pensive. But the playfulness she so excels at hasn’t diminished an iota, and she remains one of the cleverest interpreters around, her rapport with Davis and Piltch (here augmented by drummer Davide DiRenzo and various guests) deeper than ever.
Two of her passions, pop culture and Tom Waits, are duly indulged. The former emerges in a faraway rendition of the decades-old James Bond theme, “You Only Live Twice,” and a cunningly deconstructed “Viva Las Vegas.” Her Waits obsession reveals itself with an ensorcelled “Walk Away” lifted from the bayou’s inkiest depths and “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard,” its twilit eeriness craftily coaxed by Johnny Johnson’s sax and clarinet, Kevin Turcotte’s trumpet and flugelhorn and William Carn’s trombones.
Cole gets “Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues” just right, inching past wistful but stopping short of woeful, succeeds as a stripped-bare balladeer on a finely scorched “If You Go Away,” and reminds us what a skilled songwriter she is with the wily “You’ve Got a Secret.” Those willing to part with extra dosh for the Japanese pressing will also be treated to a seductive, bongo- and organ-propelled “The Tender Trap” that swaps Sinatra swagger for Julie London silkiness.