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Holly Cole comes home for the holidays

Wednesday is a holiday Holly day at Casino Nova Scotia as Halifax-born singer Holly Cole brings her 2019 Christmas tour to the Schooner Showroom at 8 p.m.
Wednesday is a holiday Holly day at Casino Nova Scotia as Halifax-born singer Holly Cole brings her 2019 Christmas tour to the Schooner Showroom at 8 p.m.
HALIFAX, N.S. —

Holly Cole is truly home for the holidays in December, not just to perform Christmas chestnuts with her band at Casino Nova Scotia’s Schooner Showroom on Wednesday at 8 p.m., but also to check in on her summer retreat outside of Chester.

The Halifax-born, Juno Award-winning singer spent around two years renovating the pre-Confederation house, which she also rents out on Airbnb, and it turns out that her approach to refurbishing a building is much like her philosophy about interpreting classic songs.

“It’s really old, and I wanted to fix it up,” says Cole about her South Shore getaway. “I love contemporary design, but I also love the fact that it’s so old, so I combined these two elements in a way that in my opinion retains the integrity of what’s really old about it.

“The old floors have rope in them, they’re really divine, but it’s not so much a heritage house as I’ve introduced some more modern things. And I was three-quarters of the way through it before I realized that’s exactly what I like to do with music.”

A new spin

Cole calls her predilection for finding something new to enjoy in relics of the past the “ongoing throughline of my life.” It’s what gives the pizzaz to her latest album Holly, full of revved-up standards and ultra-lounge treats, and it’s her current state of being as she and her band — longtime pianist Aaron Davis, bassist George Koller, percussionist Davide DiRenzo and Johnny Johnson on a variety of woodwinds — get into the bones of favourite and obscure Christmas nuggets for her upcoming shows.

“I started preparing for this in July,” she explains. “We’d be in the middle of one of Toronto’s horrific heat waves, and I’m in rehearsal going, ‘Oh, the weather outside is frightful...’

“These shows aren’t annual, and I don’t want them to be, but they are a tradition so they happen every once in a while. I want them to always be fresh; I love that there are certain songs that people come expecting to hear like Santa Baby and so on, but I like to rotate them and write some new ones as well.”

New holiday music

Cole looks forward to sharing her latest holiday tune Thirteen Days, which takes its name from the length of Christmas vacation when you’re a kid, with “13 days to sit in the snow” while mom prepares the turkey and dad wrestles with a spruce trying to keep it upright in the tree stand.

“That is the joy of Christmas for kids, while everyone is going ballistic around you and freaking out from the pressure, and you’re just loving the fact that you’re going to get a bunch of presents and go outside in the snow,” she says.

“Then that all goes away when you grow up, but anyway ...”

Cole’s love for lesser-known Christmas songs goes back to the first release by the Holly Cole Trio, 1989’s Christmas Blues, which included the Andrews Sisters’ I’d Like to Hitch a Ride With Santa Claus and the Pretenders’ 2000 Miles, which was only a few years old at that point and not the standard it’s become today.

Destined

She jokes that doing seasonal music seems pre-ordained when your first name is Holly and your last name is a homophone for what Santa Claus puts in the stockings of misbehaving children, but since she first started performing it in tandem with her broader catalogue of jazz and pop standards it’s become a gift for both Cole and her fans.

“We had a big cult following at the time, before my career really took off, and we thought it’d be fun to put together a Christmas show when nobody was doing it in small clubs or anything. You just got the more established artists bringing their Christmas shows to big venues,” she recalls.

“People absolutely tore it up, they loved it, so we had to do it for a week the next year, and it just grew and grew in a grassroots kind of way, and I loved that about it. My dream as a kid was never to become an artist associated with Christmas, but in Canada I really am and I enjoy it as a different facet of my career that I can dive into when it really feels right.”

If you go: Tickets for Holly Cole’s holiday show at Casino Nova Scotia’s Schooner Showroom are available at the casino’s guest services desk, the Ticket Atlantic box office (902-451-1221 or ticketatlantic.com) and participating Atlantic Superstores.

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