My Gay Toronto - Bellini's 8 1/2

House of David: DeLaria keeps swinging

by Paul Bellini

I’ve been waiting months for Lea DeLaria to release her CD of Bowie covers, called House of David. It finally arrived in the mail yesterday, and I can’t stop playing it. DeLaria (most famous as Boo on Orange Is the New Black, but also one of the funniest stand-up comedians ever) asked Bowie about doing modern jazz versions of twelve of his best songs, and he heartily endorsed the project. Though I have no idea what he thinks of the final product, I have to imagine he’s flattered, if not fascinated, by the results.

DeLaria has done this sort of thing before. Her first CD gave us jazz versions of Broadway show tunes, but her second release, Double Standards, offered up her interpretations of songs by Green Day and Blondie. She is nothing if not adventurous. The cover of House of David even replicates Bowie’s pose from the Changes One album.

A classically trained jazz vocalist, DeLaria brings something unique to every song. Her voice is soft and fluid, then brassy and tough when she needs to amp it up. She also really articulates. There were so many times when I thought to myself “Oh, so that’s what Bowie was actually saying.”

The CD opens with a breezy take on Fame, and segues into a lush, emotional version of Space Oddity, her plaintive voice giving new poignancy to the phrase “Can you hear me, Major Tom?” She has fun with Golden Years, Suffragette City (a duet with Janis Siegel), Rebel Rebel, and Let’s Dance. Her take on Boys Keep Swinging is truly hilarious, especially since it is being delivered by a butch dyke. But the CD’s masterpieces are Life on Mars and Modern Love, both interpreted as heartbreakingly beautiful personal statements that moved me to tears. The latter features a whole choir as part of the elaborate arrangement.

House of David is a real achievement. If you like Lea, jazz, Bowie, or music that actually moves you, then you must listen to House of David.