Holly Cole has always been great. She has always been a throwback to the glory days of female jazz singers. With her vocal range diving deep within the depths of notes and rising to the surface – Cole has always ‘nailed it.’ Last night as part of the Montreal Jazz Festival, Holly nailed it once more.
Trust in Me, My Foolish Heart and even Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues were delivered by Holly in an aw shucks forceful type of way. Perhaps from the viewpoint of a woman (or person) approaching their ‘senior discount age’ – Cole knows she has nothing left to prove with an ego. At 55, it is time to allow the talent to talk exclusively. Who needs attitude? It is that time in one’s life to enjoy every moment. Holy Cole seemingly is in that mindset on stage.
Cole started the night out with two musicians forming a trio. A typical approach by Cole to inject some ‘real’ jazz into the crowd. Two minutes in and the audience were transported to the 20’s and 30’s and a time when Jazz was to America what Pop was during the 1980s. Cole on vocals, David Piltch on bass and Aaron Davies on piano. A menage a trois with no limits. A menage a trois open to voyeurism with an eager audience at their feet.
Down Down Down, My Baby Just Cares for Me and a cool rendition of I Can See Clearly Now had the mostly middle age to senior crowd caught in the headlights. When cars pass you by daily on the street with Rap, Hip Hop and Rock n Roll scaring you awake with loudness, a Holly Cole concert is a welcome shock to the system. In this day and age, music with harmony, soul and meaningful lyrics are more of an oddity. Classic Jazz is wondrous once the ears settle in.
John Johnson and David DiRenzo arrived on the scene ( horns and drums ) and the trio evolved into a comfortable shoe. Cole walked within the sound of the band and among her friends with a certain lightness. That weightlessness carried Cole through the second half. In song, she was all business. Hitting every note with ease. Between songs the banter was small but cozy enough to allow the gap between audience and performer to close. In other words, with about six tunes left, Cole had the punters at her mercy.
With a new album under her belt (2018’s Holly) and a what appears to be a permanent reunion with her initial trio, Cole’s career seems vital once more. At a time when most people start thinking of retirement, Cole appears to be ready to roll.
A group of defined women all accomplished or rising stars in the music scene. A delight to the ears and eyes alike.
Chrysta Bell, director David Lynch’s muse – performed on the 5th of July before an ecclectic audience. Fitting. Bell’s presence and choice of songs – straight from a Lynch episode of Twin Peaks. The Texas – born statuesque beauty ( they grow them big in Texas), stunningly dressed in a gold sequined dress. Her strawberry -coloured hair complimenting the fiery backdrop of the many visual effects on the screen behind her and the band. Musically – ethereal. Haunting portrayals of songs from the Lynch – produced Cd ; ‘This Train’.
In front of the stage, a trio of beautiful women, cut from the same Bell cloth. Gyrating and disappearing into Chrysta’s world. An existence from another planet while songs such as ‘ Right Down to You‘ and ‘Polish Poem’ provided the rocket fuel for such a far away excursion. Bell’s performance – mesmerizing not just for the sheer presence of a mystical creature, important for the talent of her voice. A delight who surprised everyone by showcasing her Blues upbringing complete with a Telecaster in hand.
In a world where too many female artists sell their souls and musical integrity for radio airplay and all the riches that come with it – Bell’s appearance a welcome relief amid a storm of talentless divas touring the world today …
According to Ringwald, she started singing around the age of three. Easy to do as her father; Robert Ringwald – a Jazz composer, had her daughter sing with his Big, Swing and Dixieland bands. Following a ‘somewhat short’ and successful film career, Molly has decided to return to her ‘roots’. The audience at Club Soda in attendance for curiosity – more than as a fanbase for Ringwald’s musical catalog.
Crooning tunes from ‘The great American Songbook’, Ringwald did not disappoint. Not to be mistaken for Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday ( or to be mentioned in the same breath), Molly’s renditions carried out like a class ‘AAA’ ballplayer called up to the big leagues for one hot summer night. No errors, a couple of hits and a sound education of the game around her. Ringwald performed songs from her album; Except Sometimes. Tunes such as Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sooner or Later’, Lionel Bart’s ‘Where Is the Love’ and a touching version of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)‘
The charm in Ringwald’s performance? The simplicity and the self-depreciating humor exuding from the forty-five year old married woman with three kids. Holding up her new CD ten times in a playful ‘buy my album’ kind of way, combined with tales of her then-young children listening playfully in the studio over the years, forced a packed audience at Club Soda to fall in love with Molly and forget ( if only for a minute) – once upon a time, Molly Ringwald was bad enough to be part of The Breakfast Club.
Speaking of bad ….?
Bettye LaVette was in Montreal as part of a double bill with the Queen of Rockabilly – Wanda Jackson at The Metropolis on July 4th.
The opening act – Bettye arrived on stage like a comet blasting into Earth without warning from NASA. A sixty year old ‘cosmic wonder’, finally landing on a planet filled with record executives who – for many years mismanaged this lady’s career. A poorly kept secret until recent years. Montreal loves passion and LaVette delivered …
Bettye first toured with legends Otis Redding and Ben E. King. She learned her chops and skill from not just watching these men, sleeping with them as well. In her own words; ‘ Nobody took women singers seriously back the so I did what I had to to learn and get ahead’.
LaVette’s energy and powerful voice is a testament to that experience gained. Her stage presence ( amid banter somewhat lost in translation), a throwback to a different time. An era where showmanship lay not in plastic eggs but in the sheer tuning of vocal chords. LaVette performing songs such as Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’, Gnarls Barkley‘s ‘Crazy’, Lucinda Williams’ ‘Joy’ and Fiona Apple’s ‘Sleep to Dream’. Tunes which earned Bettye a couple of long and loud standing ovations.
It has been over fifty years since the diminutive woman broke into the music business with her 1962 hit ‘ Let Me Down Easy’. In recent years – she has performed in front of U. S President Obama singing with Jon Bon Jovi. If Bettye’s final song at Metropolis is any indication, a tune which saw LaVette exit stage left three times while continuing singing – ‘Close As I Get To Heaven’ may just might be the theme song to Montreal’s 34th edition of the International Jazz Festival. It now is for the hundreds in attendance that night.
Images can be deceiving …
Poor Wanda Jackson …
Sitting backstage, moments before her performance – a tired looking seventy-six year old Jackson explained how her luggage had arrived just an hour earlier. Given the fact that her and her husband / manager had been here from the night before – a pleasant stay marred by airline people.
An excuse for Jackson’s somewhat erratic performance? No. She does not need one …
Jackson, whose career deserves more respect than a firefighter amid a blazing office tower fire complete with small child in tow, is allowed to mess up. While most women her age are sitting in rocking chairs delivering tales of adoring Elvis Presley from afar to the bored ears of restless grandchildren – Wanda is still carrying on with a lifelong passion. Singing Gospel, Country and Rockabilly songs from her immense catalog. In between – spinning tales of dating Elvis Presley to an audience filled with people the age of her grandchildren. These facts a mulligan to whatever errors carried out via miscues on stage.
An appreciative crowd ( notably two young ladies crying; ‘Wanda you are awesome!’ ) witnessed history. Backed by a band; The Lustre Kings – a group fit for a wedding reception. What you saw is what you heard. Renditions far from musical mastery yet tight as a cork for an already drunken man.
Jackson’s first hit; ‘I Gotta Know’ from 1956 – set the evening up for a trip down memory lane. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ decorated the dinner table for all the seniors in attendance while cover versions of Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good’ kept the kids interested until the desserts arrived. After dinner treats such as ‘Fujiyama Mama’, ‘Let’s Have a Party’ and ‘Mean Mean Man’. Hits from Jackson’s wonderful and storied career.
The evening’s most charming and funny moment? Wanda explaining how she was backstage while Elvis was performing and gearing all these girls screaming. ‘ I thought there was a fire or something …” Explained Wanda. Little did she know that the cause of the ruckus was a growing spark that would eventually be known as an inferno with the name; The King of Rock n Roll.
Little did anyone know – Wanda Jackson would outlive him and still be singing. Respect …
Straight from Nova Scotia !
Mo Kenney played the last night of the Festival at Le Savoy Metropolis. A quaint upstairs room beside the venue where so many wonderful performers entertained Montrealers.
A perfect setting for Kenney’s folk-ish, country sound.
Straight out of the K.D Lang classroom of powerful vocal range, Kenney – with acoustic guitar and sharp tongue in tow – electrified an audience complete with fans and music lovers alike. Kenney was just announced as the winner of Socan’s 2013 Songwriter Award, becoming the very first Maritimer to take home the prize. ‘Sucker’ – the song which will now warrant her national recognition, a tune written after Kenney was dumped. A heartfelt message to anyone (everyone) who has been in the situation at least once.
Mo’s guitar playing so complete, her outstanding voice almost overshadowed. Until she really starts to sing …
Poems accompanied by music – tunes such as ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Somewhere Else’ providing lasting imprints on both the soul and the conscience. Lullabies starting so soft and escalating to pyramids immense in strength. Immense in their power to provide ponderers with pressure points to the heart. Places where few have traveled without Kenny as their guide. A homegrown talent to follow as she makes her way from the Oceans of the east to the Mountains of the west.
Watch her climb …
Please stay tuned for Part Three of my Jazz Festival Review …
Mother Nature appeared to be somewhat undecided with her decision to join the festivities. For many tourists and locals – a moot point. The sights and sounds of the festival outweighed the wet and the grey. For a Montreal contingent, fresh off the heels of a harsh winter and tales of corruption – a little rain, an improvement from the political storms blowing through the province on a daily basis.
For the most part, musicians ( homegrown and from places where Google Maps cannot locate), delivered wonderful shows and placed smiles on people’s faces. Some folks may be pleased some of the time yet most folks are never pleased all of the time. If happiness were universal – homeless musicians would have better acoustics and not a negative word would be said of any performance at the Jazz fest.
And as for the Lord, well, he’s just doing his best…
A Spanish train did not transport Burgh, the Lord and the Devil to the city. The organizers of the Festival should have at least sent a Mexican cab driver to pick them up.
The decision to have FEIST as the cover page to a novel considered the best in the world – a faux pas. A legendary fest requires a legendary opening act. The ‘flavor of the moment’ choice scrumptious to those who dine on the chosen group’s CDs – somewhat sour for a mass population raised on Dick Clark and his top-forty contemporaries. FEIST should have declined. Nothing good could come from a misplaced gig. For anyone involved.
Australia’s The Cat Empire, a band who tore the roof off the Metropolis for two nights and followed it up with a free ‘surprise’ show on July 6th – a rightful choice for an opening act regardless of their corporate status. If a big name cannot be added, the next logical choice? A circus-like party band complete with horns and dance grooves. A mood -altering handshake to everyone arriving on the Festival’s grounds. A definitive ‘blow-out’ for the opening ‘blow-out’ show if there ever was one …
The Empire of ‘feline persuasion’ – are a must see band of Gypsy-like carnival dwellers. With Harry James Angus leading the way with a horn ripe for the blowing. The Metropolis crowd never seated, never bored. The group’s Latin – influenced grooves combined with catchy lyrics and equally entrapping stage presence, placed an exclamation point on the Jazz festival. The added show plus the free one – leaving indentations of ‘Wild Animals’, ‘The Patriot’ and ‘Brighter Than Gold’ into the eardrums of fans and Empire virgins alike. One of the most entertaining bands on the global circuit today.
Holly Cole, the native of Nova Scotia and Canada’s adopted daughter of Jazz – kinda opened up the Festival. Her three evenings along with the reception of the 2013 Ella Fitzgerald Award, a fitting welcome for the lovers of Jazz and a hint of Pop. The audience at Le Theatre du Nouveau Monde treated to festival founder Alain Simard ( the man also responsible for jump-starting Cole’s career) greeting Cole for her 25th appearance at the festival. A heart-warming moment for a pair who were privy to the origins of the festival.
Cole ( along with Aaron Davies and Kevin Breit) rewarded Simard and the ‘punters’ in attendance by completing sets with memorable tunes such as ‘Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues’, ‘ The Train Song’, ‘I’ve Got a Secret’ and ‘Down, Down, Down’. The highlight? ‘The Train Song’. A stage suddenly transformed into an oncoming locomotive musically. Cole’s voice – appearing from the fog with hints to an evening spent with her Father as a young ailing child in this nation’s east coast. A midnight stroll upon her Dad’s shoulders as the fog opened Cole’s eyes to the night. A learning curve for what would become a lifelong night – owl addiction and the name of Holly’s latest disc.
One of the strangest, diverse additions to the Festival was The Virgins at Club Soda on June 30th. This rag-tag bunch of young ‘Stooges’ wannabes – hopped off a plane from Germany and onto the stage on St.Laurent blvd. They appeared lost as did the crowd who may have misinformed their way through a forest of humanity attempting to find the gig. A last minute arrival from many fans (or curiosity seekers), saved what may have been an embarrassment for the band and the Festival organizers. Once the surprise factor was overcome – the New York city based quasi – Punk Alternative kids, settled into a set complete with songs from their new album; ‘Strike Gently’. An album which has not received the accolades of the group’s first and self – titled disc in 2008. Hopefully for the band and their fans – a return trip to Montreal as part of an Indie-Festival upcoming. If not – these ‘Rich Kids’ may run out of money – quickly …
Darting the streets, daring the traffic – sometimes instills respectable surprises on a Festival patron. Between shows and halfway through money-making agents and record companies, gems are discovered glistening within the cracks of sidewalks paved by corrupt contractors.
A Bluegrass Band. A trio from Nova Scotia. Hard-working young ones peddling their talents for an unsuspecting public. Guitar case open for money to return home or a meal and a shower. The blueprints of office towers with names like Dylan, Myles Davis or Billie Holiday.
‘Eat n’ Holler’ – as fine an hour spent this side of wooing a loved one. Selling discs for money that the general public may otherwise spend daily on processed snacks, alcohol and brain damaging cable T.V shows.
Music provided with ears to legendary men such as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatts. Carrying the tradition against all odds and peer pressure beyond comprehension. Hats off to the salt of the earth.
‘I am a night owl, I stay up very, very late every night …” Says Cole. ” I find it very quiet. I mean the only phone calls I get are from drunk friends. It is very mysterious and for a creative person – it is ideal. It is open at night – meaning there are no distractions. You have peace and quiet.”
Holly Cole’s latest musical effort and her first in five years, is definitely an evening affair.
It is an album which turned into a nocturnal theme after a few recording sessions and it also discovers Cole back to where she started. It’s a reunion of sorts. Cole has re-united with her two initial partners in crime. A duo, along with Holly – which made up the Holly Cole Trio. One of the most talented threesomes in Canadian music history …
“My favorite song on the album is ‘Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues‘ ” Admits the 49 year old singer from Nova Scotia. ” One of the reasons I love the song is because it is done as my original trio with Aaron Davies and David Pilch. It really takes me back to the raw trio and that is where my real heart lies. It really is minimal and I am a real minimalist.”
All of the songs on the album ‘Night’ are covers except for one. ‘You’ve got a Secret’ is an original composition and it fits in well with the ‘accidental’ theme of the album. As Cole and her mates were recording, Holly realized the songs she had chosen, all had either the words or ideas of a nighttime flavor. An underlying message of what goes on once the sun disappears. She then chose the remainder of the covers based on that …
” I knew we would do songs in increments. Four at a time or something. Then I realized that most of the songs were about night, written at night or had night in the lyrics. It’s all about the ‘night’ feeling. Some of the songs have a loose connection but they ended up being arranged with that night feeling. The song that I wrote is about night so I think the feel is very mysterious.”
Holly believes her ‘late night’ habits were introduced to her at a young age. She profoundly recalls an incident that took place when she was a three year old in Halifax. She woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible cough – waking both of her parents up. According to Cole, she sounded like Tom Waits and nobody wants their little girl to sound like him – a fan or not …
‘It was around four o’clock in the morning …” She remembers. ” My Father wrapped me into a blanket and took me for a late night stroll. My whole neighborhood was blank – not a soul there. I saw it all for the first time through completely different eyes.”
She goes on …
“It was a clear night with clean Halifax air and fog. I was sitting on my Dad’s shoulders and everything was basking him – the street lights, the moonlight … and all I could hear were his footsteps. It made me fall in love completely with the night. I sincerely believe it had a big influence on me becoming a night owl. When I got home, I felt better and I remember laying in bed thinking that I have a secret. Something which was mine and only mine. It really inspired me and I believe it opened up creative juices within me …”
Those creative juices have served Cole very well.
She released her first album in 1990; ‘ Girl Talk’. It was recorded and released as the Holly Cole Trio. Since that time – Cole has done everything from Christmas albums to an entire disc devoted to Tom Waits songs.
‘Night’ is Holly’s (including ‘best of’ and compilations) 16th album and it has been a long way since she sent a cassette to the founder of the Montreal International Jazz Festival – Andre Menard.
‘I did not have an album, a manager – nothing …” Says Holly. ” I sent him some songs I had done and he loved them. His influence put me on a stage and I was thrilled to play there. It was 1987 and Menard loved me from the beginning. He has been so great to me …”
She will be with her quintet as well as something that is a first for her. A full Gospel choir will be involved. It is an idea that came to her. A thought that delivered the answer; why not …? After all – an artist must continue to grow or risk becoming stagnant …
” This is the first time with a Gospel choir. We have worked with a choir before but not a Gospel one. I like to keep things fresh. They are a twenty – five piece choir called the ‘Praise and Worship Crew.’ They will be with us all three nights and they are from Montreal. I am looking forward to that as well as Kevin Breault joining us for the final two shows. He is a fantastic guitar player.”
Holly’s upcoming appearances at the Montreal Jazz Festival will be her 25th. The city is her favorite and she simply adores not only playing – taking in as many acts as she can during the Festival. In fact – she always comes to the Festival if she is not performing elsewhere. Sometimes she is recognized – sometimes she is not.
” The thing about Montreal … (and I have been all over the world), is that it is able to combine the best of North America and Europe. Somehow – the city is able to not have the worst of those cultures. I really mean it when I say that. It’s the greatest Jazz Festival in the world and Montreal is fantastic!”