New Year, New Imelda. Imelda May has kicked off her new year with a new album and a new look since the divorce from her husband of eighteen years. Gone is the almost caricature-Rockabilly look and sound of her top-three album, Tribal, and earlier releases that created a striking signature of the Dublin born singer. The first performance of her single ‘Black Tears’ at Jools Holland’s Hootenanny showed off her new natural identity. It only seems proper that her ‘rebirth’ should take place on the stage of the man who first discovered her talent.
Natural doesn’t mean boring, or that May has withdrawn from bold, characterful music?. ‘Life. Love. Flesh. Blood.’ has its own drama. The sounds seem almost experimental as she plays with her distinctive voice. Many artists with strong voices risk making every song the same, overwhelming each with their strength. Managing to distill her style, however, Imelda takes us on a very personal tour through her different facets. In Imelda’s own words, “it’s therapy, like keeping a diary that a lot of people read. Some of my favourite songs don’t say much, but they reveal everything.”
A bittersweet theme runs throughout the exploration of the blues. She takes us through her plaintive cry of ‘Call Me’ and ‘Black Tears’ with a goosebump-raising restraint. The story of ‘Black Tears’ and her willingness to share with her audience demonstrates a depth and raw feeling behind the album, despite being a mere seven days in the album:
“I wrote Black Tears with Angelo Petraglia (Kings of Leon) after a heart-wrenchingly difficult goodbye. I closed my door and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror with black tears rolling down my face. It’s a sight and situation most women have unfortunately seen ourselves in at some point in life. Angelo had a beautiful guitar piece that fit the mood perfectly.”
From the naivety of ‘Should Have Been You’ to the more defiant country twang of ‘Sixth Sense’, through the nostalgic ‘The Girl I Used to Be’, the Latinate ‘How Bad Can A Good Girl Be’ and rock rebellion of ‘Leave Me Lonely’ , the album lassos each genre to her style with great accomplishment. Extraordinarily, despite this range of genres, the record feels very much of a piece. Rarely have I heard an album that hangs together so well.
Imelda’s sound is accentuated by a impressive list of contributors. While she is used to performing alongside veritable legends such as Smokey Robinson and Lou Reed, here she shows off her versatility by holding her own against guitar hero Jeff Beck (‘Black Tears’), while Jools himself makes an appearance on ‘When It’s My Time’.
She manages to balance the discrete sound of each track with the strength of her voice and an experienced group of backing musicians. Which have at its core, guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), drummer Jay Bellerose (Elton John & Leon Russell) and bassist Zach Dawes (The Last Shadow Puppets). This wealth of talent is apparent in one of the most rich and defining break-up albums of the last 30 years, not to mention a joyful exploration of Blues and her personal growth. Pour yourself a strong one, curl up on the sofa and lose yourself in this record as it plucks, strums and slides on every one of your heart strings.
‘Life. Love. Flesh. Blood’ is to be released on Decca Records on 7th April.