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Don't try to pigeonhole vocalist Holly Cole.

Another Waits number turned up on It Happened One Night, a 1996 in-concert offering that demonstrates why Cole's performances are so well-regarded. ("I love playing live more than anything," she says. "The shows are my whole motivation.") But on Heart, she turned to other tunesmiths, including Joni Mitchell and Lennon/McCartney. And while the recording suffers a bit from producer Larry Klein's excessive fondness for drum loops, its distinctiveness makes it another step forward for this fascinating artist.

At present, Cole isn't sure what she'll record the next time she ventures into a studio, but one possibility is a salute to German cabaret music. "I used to do a whole show of it, not in German but in English," she says. "It was kind of dramatic and theatrical--just piano and voice--and I did it with my brother. Almost all the music was written by Kurt Weill, so we called the show 'A Vile Evening With Allen and Holly Cole.' I'd really like to record some of that sometime."

Does Cole think that such a radical departure from her previous efforts might alienate her admirers? "I don't look at that stuff--you know, the demographics and that type of marketing," she replies. "I don't think of it as part of my job, and I don't want it to interfere with my musicality. I've seen a lot of people who pay attention to that stuff, and it interferes with their music. They pay too close attention to the target market and then decide what they will do next based on that--tailor their next work so those people will like it. But I really think that my job is to make the music so that I like it, and hope that other people do, too, whoever those other people might be. Whether it's 15- to 25-year-old males, Tom Waits lovers or jazz purists, I believe that they'll find the music if I just let them through and stay true to what I think sounds good."

By the same token, Cole isn't entirely allergic to promoting herself. When she's asked how she'd tempt potential listeners to attend one of her concerts, she laughs as she asks, "How about telling them that I'm a combination of drop-dead gorgeous and incredible talent? Would that work?"

She may be kidding, but Cole fans know how close her words are to the truth.

Holly Cole. 8 p.m. Sunday, March 8, the Soiled Dove, 1949 Market St., $10, 299-0100.

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