"Baby it's Cold Outside" - 2001
1. Christmas Time Is Here
2. Baby, It's Cold Outside
3. The Christmas Song
4. Santa Baby
5. I'll Be Home For Christmas
6. 'Zat You Santa Claus
7. If We Make It Through December
8. Christmas Is
9. Wildwood Carol
10. Sleigh Ride
11. What Is This Lovely Fragrance?
12. Never No
13. What About Me
Holly Cole has probably spent a lifetime reflecting on her relationship to Christmas.
Her parents named her "Holly" because she was born on November 25, a full month before Christmas. Her first recording in 1991 was the The Christmas Blues EP on Alert Records. It was followed in 1994 by the seasonal live album Count Your Blessings with Mary Margaret O'Hara, Jane Siberry, Victoria Williams and Rebecca Jenkins, also on Alert. And like mistletoe and brightly wrapped presents, Cole's annual symphony tour of Canada in November and December is a holiday tradition.
"With a name like Holly Cole, you know you are destined for Christmas shows," says the alluring Canadian vocalist while in the midst of whirlwind touring of Germany, Austria, and Japan in the Fall of 2001.
Yet, Cole sheepishly admits having mixed feelings about the festive season. Like many, she dislikes it for the blatant commercialism and stress involved. However, being so work-prone and intensely adoring her family, she values the holidays for providing a calming pause in her life and for forcing her to pay attention to what are priorities in life.
"Christmas is both hellish and great," she says. "I do really love it. I do love the notion of spending time with people that mean so much to me - my family and my friends. It is the only time of year I'm absolutely forced to stop working because everything is halted."
She adds, "Growing up, my family always had a great Christmas. Big trees and big turkeys. I have three brothers and being a tom-boy, I wanted the dump trucks and everything they got. But I still wanted Barbie. Growing up in Halifax, it was definitely winter wonderland for all my Christmases."
Recorded in Toronto at Inception Sound Studios and McClear Digital Studios Baby, It's Cold Outside was co-produced by Cole and her long-time accompanist, pianist Aaron Davis who also provided the dazzling orchestral arrangements for the 27-piece orchestra featured on four selections: Zat You Santa Claus, Santa Baby, Wildwood Carol, and the title track. Also appearing on the album as core members backing Cole are: David Piltch and George Koller (bass), Mark Kelso (drums), and Brian Barlow (percussion).
"We tried to keep the arrangements simple," says Cole. "Aaron and I do most of the arrangements ourselves. We have been working together for more than 10 years now so our work has become honed. But there are still surprises because we do a lot of projects and try to expand what we do."
Baby, It's Cold Outside possesses a diverse spectrum of seasonal emotions. It is not just Christmas favourites. It is not a bunch of chestnuts roasting on the open fire. It's obvious by listening to it that Cole likes to poke fun at Christmas; likes to poke fun at the notion of Santa Claus; and really likes to swing with songs that have bit of sexual innuendo. There's a lot of give-me-a-break about the album.
Cole chose Christmas songs with the same critical ear as all of her previous recordings. Not only did she take care in selecting the repertoire, but she set out to interpret them in such a fashion that they effectively are her own.
"What I wanted was songs which are well-known but don’t make you react 'Oh gawd. Not that song again.' I wanted to combine a bunch of less familiar songs with well-known songs that I've made into something they haven't been."
The album is, in fact, a match-up of infectious Christmas classics (The Christmas Song, Sleigh Ride and I'll Be Home For Christmas) with more contemporary fare by Cole's friend Mary Margaret O'Hara (Never No) and Davis (What About Me).
Among the album's more conventional treasures are her rendition of Vince Guaraldi Trio's Christmas Time Is Here (originally from TV's A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1987); a rendition of Percy Faith's Christmas Is, inspired by a Lou Rawls version; and two exquisite traditional offerings, What Is This Lovely Fragrance and Wildwood Carol.
There's also an evocative version of Merle Haggard's 1973 #1 country hit, If We Make It Through December. "Merle's the greatest," exclaims Cole. "The height of country music is George Jones' singing Merle Haggard. George is my favorite country singer; Merle is my favourite songwriter. It's a very sad song. The implication is strongly that making through December isn't going to happen for the couple...for whatever reason. It's certainly not a trippy, happy Christmas song."
On her website, Cole canvassed fans for suggestions for the album. She says she quite enjoyed reviewing their favourites, and comments.
"I really wanted to know what the fans wanted," she says. "I wanted to know what is it they like about what I do. I was deluged with ideas. Some of them were so interesting, and amazing. Some songs I'd never heard of so I searched for them at the library. Some were well known songs or songs I was already going to do. I was surprised how many people wanted me to do 'The Christmas Song.' I wasn't planning on doing it because it's so well known. So many people wanted it, I do love it, so I did it."
Cole saucily points out the tongue-in-cheek, sexual innuendo of the title track Baby, It's Cold Outside, which she performs as a duet with Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson.
"When she sings ‘Well, maybe just a cigarette more,’ sex has already happened. It's the cigarette after the sex thing. The giveaway is just before when he sings, ‘Your lips are delicious.’ Obviously, they kissed, and the cigarette is post-sex."
"I really love the orchestral arrangement we did. It's a nod to old-fashioned Frank Loesser but with a wry smile. The arrangement is Burt Bacharach-ish in that it's a little bit beatnik with the alto-flute parts. I almost put bongos on it, and then I thought it’d be ramming the point home too much."
The album also includes zesty renditions of Eartha Kitt's 1953 hit Santa Baby, and Zat You Santa Claus, popularized by Louis Armstrong. The seductive Yuletide Santa Baby is, in fact, Cole's all-time favourite seasonal song. "I've been doing that song for years but I'd never recorded it in the studio," she says. "It's a timeless song. The motif of the song, which is quite humorous, is based on Christmas greed.
The only person I ever heard sing Zat You Santa Claus was Louis Armstrong. I love it because it's so playful. How many songs are there about being afraid of Santa Claus? Aaron did an amazing arrangement of it."
Sleigh Ride, the bouncy holiday classic about sleigh bells ring, ring, ring-a-lin' in a wonderland of snow is one of Cole's favourites on the album.
"I love that song; I always have," says Cole. "Dave and I just had a blast improvising it as a duet. The song is so deceptively hard to sing. It was one of the hardest tunes to sing on the album. The melody is so strange. Most songs have two sections - A and B. This song has A, B, C and D sections and they are all in different keys. The part that is really hard to sing — ‘We're gliding along with a song of a wintry fairy land' — that's a difficult melody. Nobody thinks it's bizarre because they've heard it so many times."
Another wonderful duet on the album is the pairing of Cole and Davis on I'll Be Home For Christmas. Prior to recording, the two had never played that song together before. Davis had worked out an intro to the song and Cole said, 'Let's track.’ She explains, "We played it once, and I said, 'That's the take. I'm not changing anything. Everything sounds great. Next tune.'"
After a break last year, Cole will do 16-dates with symphony orchestras across Canada in November and December 2001 on her Christmas tour "Baby, It’s Cold Outside." She and her touring band perform across Germany and Switzerland in October and Japan in November. The evenings will obviously be even more special this year, as she will perform songs from her album, Baby, It's Cold Outside.