Album: David McAlmont & Michael Nyman, The Glare, (MN Records)
A daring, dynamic duo built to withstand the glare
Sunday 01 November 2009
David McAlmont is one of British pop's most precious hidden treasures. His voice is a sublime and miraculous thing, able to convey unimaginable reserves of vulnerability and inner strength in one wavering syllable.
And if his mercurial career hasn't touched you yet, here's your catch-up listening list: "Unworthy" by Thieves, "Yes" by McAlmont And Butler (and the whole of their Bring it Back album), "Diamonds are Forever" with David Arnold, and that barely scratches the surface.
Michael Nyman is less in need of an introduction, being probably the country's most celebrated living composer. The idea of putting them together as a duo is almost too good to be true: it cannot, surely, live up to its potential. Except that it does. The Glare is a daring project in which McAlmont has scoured the world's regional newspapers (the Ottawa Citizen, the Las Vegas Journal and so on) for poignant under-the-radar human-interest stories, and set them to some of his favourite Nyman works. The result is a kind of conceptual operetta, with broad themes of release and escape.
Over 11 pieces performed by the Michael Nyman band (a 12-piece ensemble consisting of strings, horns, and Nyman on piano), the singer spins first-person narratives about the lives of a New Zealand couple who found themselves with millions of dollars due to a bank error, a Nigerian prostitute caught in a people-trafficking ring, a man whose terminally ill neighbour asks him to shoot him, and even the Britain's Got Talent adventure of Susan Boyle and its aftermath.
His heartbreaking vocals mesh with the (paradoxical) opulent minimalism of Nyman's compositions so perfectly that you'd swear they'd been co-written specifically for the purpose. McAlmont, left in picture, inhabits his characters, and Nyman's band express their inner turmoil magnificently. The 17-minute finale, and instrumental suite called "Songs for Tony", allows pause to take in the tragedy and beauty of what you've just heard. There will be those who find the whole enterprise dauntingly arty (not many albums list Theodore Gericault and Sigmund Freud in the thank-yous), but once heard, you'll want never want to live without it.
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