Simon Hale is impressed by the new album from singer Imelda May.
Imelda May – Life. Love. Flesh. Blood
Dublin-born Imelda May is becoming a consummate musical chameleon. Her trademark blonde cowlick has been replaced by a demure black fringe, while her rockabilly style has given way to powerful emotional songs spanning blues, rock, soul, gospel and jazz.
May’s new album, produced by T Bone Burnett and featuring guitarist Jeff Beck and pianist Jools Holland is called Life. Love. Flesh. Blood but she denies it’s a ‘break up’ album following her divorce from guitarist Darrel Higham.
“It’s all in there: birth, sex, love, divorce and death. It’s the story of my life,” May insists, adding: “Some of the songs are very personal – I don’t know how I’m going to go out and sing these songs.”
No doubt a certain detachment from her emotions will be needed by the time she begins a UK tour next month, which includes a gig at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.
Life. Love. Flesh. Blood certainly wears its heart on its sleeve from the opening number Call Me, a bluesy ballad that beams down on the marriage breakdown. There’s heartbreak and guilt in Black Tears, featuring some deft slide guitar from Jeff Beck. It throbs with the same emotion she revealed when singing it live on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny on BBC Two to bring in 2017.
The late night jazz style continues with strains of guilt and suggestiveness in How Bad Can a Good Girl Be and Sixth Sense, with lyrics like “You got my mind in the gutter of love,” leaving little to the imagination.
There is a return to the rock and roll style of her 2014 album Tribal with Should’ve Been You in which she expresses her desires against the musical backdrop of a Wall of Sound made up of tubular bells.
All the ballads are marked by May’s smooth, clear and perfectly controlled vocal range, expressed in harmony with her top-notch backing musicians Marc Ribot on guitar, drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Zach Dawes.
Ribot and Bellerose excel in a song that proves May can just as easily turn the mood from heartache to fun with the rhythmically upbeat Bad Habit – devoted to an addiction to online shopping.
But her most satisfying foray into different genres is the gospel song When It’s My Time with Jools Holland contributing a little boogie-woogie piano in between the thrilling crescendos.
May also pays a touching tribute to her parents and her Dublin roots while focusing on her own young daughter’s upbringing with The Girl I Used to Be.
From subtle charm to passionate yearning, this perfectly balanced collection by a supremely multi-talented artist is one to cherish.
Life. Love. Flesh. Blood will be released on Decca Records on Friday, April 21. Imelda May will play Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on Monday, May 22. For tickets, go to www.thsh.co.uk