tremble clef

Thursday, December 22, 2005

David McAlmont, "Saving All My Love For You" (2005)

David McAlmont has one of my favorite voices: yes, it spans three and half octaves, blah blah blah, but as far as I'm concerned, it ain't the octave size, but what he does with it, that makes it so inviting.

When I heard, a few months ago, that he was releasing an album filled with covers of jazz and vocal standards, I was guardedly excited. On the one hand, it's about time he got some songs worthy of his voice. Like, say, k. d. lang or Alison Moyet, David isn't as gifted a songwriter as he is a vocal interpreter. Although both his solo albums, Unworthy and A Little Communication, have some breathtaking moments, they are also, for the most part, uneven. David has occasionally found worthy partners, like David Arnold and Craig Armstrong, but his most sustained collaborative work, with Bernard Butler, is likewise spotty: I think "Bring It Back," and especially the Spectatorish "Falling," from the second album are astounding, but -- controversial opinion alert! -- I never thought "Yes" or "You Do" were that good. On the other hand, an album of old standards could see David enter either the boring zone, or the desperate "I'm having so much fun swinging, baby!" realm (see: Cullum, Jamie; Williams, Robbie).

The press I read about the album got me especially thrilled about one track: a cover of Whitney's "Saving All My Love For You." I mean: hello. David told interviewers that he was doing the song, um, straight, without changing the lyric, and thereby hope to recontextualize the song as one sung by a gay man to his black married lover who's on the down low. (To carry this off, he does omit one part of the song: the "no other woman is gonna love you more" bit has been completely cut.) Genius.

In the few months it took me to find the CD, the song took shape in my head: I imagined a perfomance that out-divaed Whitney, with David hitting high notes that the former can maybe reach with the help of her husband's dookie bubble seeking finger. Perhaps I was influenced by the fact that many of these interviews I read were in things like Gay Times or Attitude; they might have spurred me into imagining a vocal performance that less singer, more drag queen.

Well, I was wrong, and I'm glad. David's version of "Saving All My Love For You" is surprisingly low-key. He sings the entire song in one of his lower octaves, and a pretty hushed manner, with his lips no doubt caressing the old time micrcophone, a la Julie London. The lack of histrionics is particularly obvious on the line "But that's just an old fantasy." Whitney's voice, you no doubt recall, goes up, and the line ends with a high, glory note in her version. Here, David instead lets the note trail off: his is not the hysteria of the kept part-time lover, but the almost private sadness of a man who knows that this compromised relationship is totally unfair to him, and yet is unable and unwilling to break free.

When David therefore sings "It’s not very easy, living all alone/My friends always tell me, find a man of my own/But each time I try, I just break down and cry/Cause I’d rather be home feeling blue," he conveys more deeply the kind of addiction, or even masochism, that this kind of deadend relationship demands. I think too of the moment in Brokeback Mountain when the Jack Twist character cries, both in frustration and resignation: "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Since 'tis the season, here, as a bonus, is David's lovely version, with David Arnold, of "Have Yourself A Merry Christmas."


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