- 07 Apr 17
Life, Love, Flesh, Blood is out now.
It’s fair to say that Imelda May stunned viewers of Jools Holland’s annual New Year’s Eve Hootenanny bash, courtesy of her performance of ‘Black Tears’ – a big, brassy soul ballad that saw the Liberties Lass wrench every last drop of emotion from the heartfelt lyrics. Moving many to tears and becoming an instant viral hit, not only did this impassioned performance reveal a brand new side to the erstwhile Rockabilly Queen – one that that was more Dusty Springfield than Wanda Jackson – it also showcased a whole new image for May.
Gone were the familiar kiss curl, the tight patterned dresses and the deep red lipstick, to be replaced by an evening gown and a more “grown up” and decidedly subtler look. The transformation seemed dramatic and sudden, but then she’s been through a lot in a very short space of time, including motherhood and a marriage break-up. Not surprisingly, she has described the making of this album as “therapy, like keeping a diary.”
‘Black Tears’ (included here) isn’t entirely characteristic of Life, Love, Flesh, Blood, which was recorded in Los Angeles in just seven days. Legendary producer T Bone Burnett was at the studio console, overseeing a collection of the west coast’s finest musicians. Taking inspiration in part from the 1960s Britpop girls (Lulu, Dusty, Petula, Cilla, Sandie), as well as absorbing a wide palette of American roots influences, the album is May’s most varied collection of tunes to date.
Current single and opening track ‘Call Me’ is a sultry ballad, oozing with raw emotion and late night atmosphere. With hints of Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ in the vocal and descending acoustic guitar pattern (courtesy of one Mr Jeff Beck), it makes for a suitably mellow start to this new chapter. ‘How Bad Can A Good Girl Be’ blends Ms. Springfield’s vulnerability with Chrissie Hynde’s defiance – the tune also owing a little of its “South of the Border” feel to Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. Meanwhile, more purely “pop” in its arrangement, ‘Human’ is like a classic 1960s girl-singer 45s.
Elsewhere, ‘Bad Habit’ is closer in style to the Imelda May we’re more familiar with – all vibrato guitars, a mid-tempo shuffle and sassy vocals. Best of all, though, is ‘When It’s My Time’, a deep Southern soul cut that showcases her unerring ability to inhabit a song. With piano and Hammond organ battling it out over gospel-style backing vocals, the singer pleads, in what is surely her most powerful vocal to date, “I’ve done the best that I could… Carry me over to the other side when it’s my time Lord”. You get the feeling she really means it.