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Holly Cole: Holly Cole

It’s intriguingly appropriate that Canadian chanteuse Holly Cole has, after 10 albums and a recording career spanning two decades, opted for a nakedly eponymous title for her latest release. For this is Cole stripped bare, freed of the mannered readings, over-steeped melodrama and vocal histrionics that have often marred her previous albums, and letting her rich, tawny instrument shine through. The results are thoroughly magical as Cole progresses from a honky-tonk, flophouse treatment of “The House is Haunted,” through a percolated “Charade” (outshining most versions by echoing the cloak-and-dagger storyline of the film it was written for) and on to a “Waters of March” that underlines the life-affirming lyric with a cunning hint of melancholy. Her “Alley Cat Song” is, remarkably, even smokier and sultrier than Peggy Lee’s, and her arresting interpretation of Irving Berlin’s “Reaching for the Moon” suggests it’s being sung from the tiny stage of some jazz-age Parisian boîte. But the standout track is Cole’s own “Larger Than Life,” a clever salute to an idealized lover that demonstrates how carefully she has studied that other Cole (as in Porter). Rare (save Porter) is the songwriter who can not only work “Pythagoras” into a lyric but also make it rhyme with “Niagara.” The net-net: This is the best studio work Cole has ever done and ranks among the year’s finest vocal achievements.

Originally Published