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Pop Music Review

Cole Hits Pay Dirt With Eclectic Approach

April 27, 1998|DON HECKMAN

Singer Holly Cole may have her roots in jazz, but her current work branches through pop, rock, blues and assorted stops in between. Whatever marketing problems that might cause, the musical results that emerged in her performance at the El Rey Theatre on Friday more than justified her eclectic approach.

Far more than on her recent pop-tinged album, "Dark Dear Heart," Cole brought her various stylistic elements into telling focus. Working with a strong, four-piece backing band (led by longtime associate Aaron Davis on keyboards), she roved across a diverse array of selections, including "Tea for Two," the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" and the pop standard "Que Sera Sera."

Despite the variety, Cole made each selection her own, changing tempos, shifting accents, adding undercurrents of unexpected rhythms. Above all was her capacity to mix a mesmerizing intensity with a dark, sardonic wit--to both render the lyrics of a song and, with side gestures and vocal inflections, touch upon their subtexts. In support of those interpretations, her voice was a superb instrument, one that she easily controlled, rich with color and emotion, sometimes mutating, in a single note, from warm openness to a piercing wail.

Is there a niche in record stores that can accommodate Cole's present work? Probably not. But if she can manage to invest her recordings with the kind of performance she offered at the El Rey, she will deserve a category of her own.

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