Imelda May | Life. Love. Flesh. Blood
Imelda May isn’t the first. From ‘Blood On The Tracks’ reflecting Bob Dylan’s crumbling marriage to the death of Sting’s parents casting a shadow over ‘The Soul Cages’, real life has a way of working its way into a musician’s work. But never before has it brought about as striking a transformation as on ‘Life. Love. Flesh. Blood’.
Gone is a marriage of 18 years. Gone is that hair. And, most importantly, gone is that big-band-swing rockabilly sound, replaced by something far more intimate, restrained – and powerful.
Recorded in just seven days with producer T-Bone Burnett and the band who played on ‘Raising Sand’, May’s fifth LP owes more to that Robert Plant Alison Krauss masterpiece than her own back catalogue. Forget the swinging upright bass, sassy brass, and Eddie Cochrane guitars of years gone past, the follow-up to the playful ‘Tribal’ is a sublime jazz-bluegrass-soul-rock-gospel hybrid that’s all about subtle arrangements, tasteful performances, and articulate, personal lyrics.
If opener ‘Call Me’ rings in the changes – the shuffling drums, that twangy guitar, sentiments like “Can’t sleep I’m scared to dream/ I’m remembering everything/ That you said, that you said to me/ When I was yours” – ‘Black Tears’ really drives them home. “Your kiss/ Killed me on that night/ As your lips/ Left a bitter taste/ Inside I’m dying/ Outside I’m crying black tears,” she confesses over a steady groove, muted horns, and the bluesy licks of guest Jeff Beck.
Although the smoky seduction ‘Levitate’, piano-led introspection ‘When It’s My Time’, and unplugged self-reflection ‘The Girl I Used To Be’ continue the low-key melancholia, this is by no means a one-note collection.
The bittersweet ‘Should’ve Been You’ twinkles, chimes, and bounces like a ‘60s soul classic as May belts out “And I’m angry, and I’m sad/ I’m the best thing that you ever had”. ‘Sixth Sense’ haunts and swoons in equal measure, the shimmering ray of light ‘Human’ is a most beautiful ode to imperfection, the goodtime celebration ‘Bad Habit’ (“Spending money like I have it”) comes closest to the May of old, and all-out blues-rock anthem ‘Leave Me Lonely’ fuses a gritty Jack White sonic palette with a soulful, sultry, spirited vocal that perfectly encapsulates the quotation concluding the liner notes: “If the choice is between love and fear… I choose love”.
- See Imelda May at London Palladium on 18 May. Tickets are available now.