I have to admit that it’s taken me a while to get around to reviewing Imelda May‘s latest album “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood”, which came out in April of this year. As many folk will know May has been through something of a reinvention since the release of her previous album “Tribal” back in 2014.
In 2015 she and husband Darrel Higham spilt and that is one of the sources of inspiration that led to the lyrical content on “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood”. Though one can read things into the words of tracks such as “Black Tears” and “Should’ve Been You”, then, I think it’s great that in this era of lack-of-privacy and public spats that both Higham and May have kept details of their issues largely to themselves and are still publicly supportive of each other. May herself has said that “…there are some heartbreak songs on there but then I fell in love again, and had my heart broken again, I was up and down so I write about love and lust and guilt and joy and my family and my child and getting older or getting younger mentally. I wrote about everything…”
Aside from her marital status, May has also changed her visual look, ditching what was her trademark rockabilly hairstyle and pencil skirts for something more relaxed and tousled. Maybe having hit her forties since “Tribal” had something to do with that too. I have to confess that I do prefer her old look personally, as does my wife who thinks that Imelda looks too much like Chrissie Hynde of Pretenders fame.
The music’s changed too. When I started this blog I wrote then about May and her music, and when I first heard “Call Me” I wasn’t sure that I was going to like her new direction. With Higham – previously her creative partner and guitar player – having left her band when they spilt I suppose it was inevitable that there would be some musical knock-on effect, but I wasn’t expecting such a complete overhaul.
Gone from the recording process are not only Higham, but also May’s regular band of Al Gare (bass), Dave Priseman (trumpet / percussion) and Steve Rushton (drums), replaced by a studio band picked by legendary producer T-Bone Burnett that featured himself and Marc Ribot on guitars, Dennis Crouch (bass), Jay Bellerose (drums) and Patrick Warren (keyboards). Guest musicians are Jeff Beck and Jools Holland.
For the most part the rockabilly sound has gone. This is still, however, a record with a rock ‘n’ roll era vibe. It’s there in the musical backing and in the song structures too. This is an album that May is obviously very proud of, as her current tour setlists appear to contain all fifteen album tracks and just four of her own back catalogue numbers. Hopefully future tours will have a more mixed selection of songs as it would be a shame to overlook the great material that she has produced in the past.
With this record, however, May has confounded my own fears and expectations. She has come up with a set of songs that is a distinctive change from her previous work whilst still feeling like it’s a continuation (no bizarre left turns like Queen’s disco album “Hot Space” for example). Initially it didn’t grab me but repeated plays have revealed more depth, fabulous musical performances and some truly wonderful vocals from the lady herself.
Highlights are many, but I will choose the stomping “Game Changer”, delicate ballad “The Girl I Used To Be”, atmospheric “The Longing” playful “Bad Habit” and the brilliant “Black Tears” as my picks of the bunch. Such great songs, and her seemingly genuine and down-to-earth personality means that (despite the image change!) Imelda May remains one of my favourite artists and I can confidently predict that “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood” will feature in my top ten albums of 2017…“Life. Love. Flesh. Blood” tracklist:
1. Call Me / 2. Black Tears / 3. Should’ve Been You / 4. Sixth Sense / 5. Human / 6. How Bad Can A Good Girl Be / 7. Bad Habit / 8. Levitate / 9. When It’s My Time / 10. Leave Me Lonely / 11. The Girl I Used To Be / 12. The Longing / 13. Flesh And Blood / 14. Game Changer / 15. Love And Fear