Imelda May reinvents her career with Love, Life, Flesh, Blood
Love, Life, Flesh, Blood
Creative reinventions take many shapes, and most are undertaken for reasons that aren’t strictly governed by any rules of honesty. Guises are adopted and then thrown away as if by the whims of fashion (or just even whims), but the transformation of Imelda May from leopardskin-trimmed, slicked-back rockabilly gal into the Chrissie Hynde of Hurt & Pain is something else altogether.
That’s just the "image", of course, but what marks this album out as the best of May’s career to date is how she has so smartly refashioned most of her music to match her mood. In other words, as its title (perhaps too obviously) references, May has been through some tough times recently.
That she should write a batch of songs about her marriage break-up – and its associated emotional fallout – with such candid realism is the mark of someone who’d rather get their point across than to flag how good they are at catching trends.
It helps that someone as empathetic as producer T Bone Burnett casts a Spectoresque eye over the majority of the songs – May’s former music stylings have mostly been replaced with elegant, reflective readings from the soul/blues/jazz/pop songbook, and they fit her like a long satin glove.
Recorded in Los Angeles last year, and backed by a core trio of guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Zach Dawes (special guests include Jools Holland and Jeff Beck), songs such as Call Me, The Girl I Used To Be, Black Tears, How Bad Can A Good Girl Be, Leave Me Lonely, and Levitate cast May in a natural, shadowy light.
That the songcraft isn’t fully there yet (as exposed by banal material such as I Choose Love, Flesh and Blood, The Longing) is not so much a quandary as a matter of timing. On the basis of the best of what’s here, even more good things will come to those who wait.