The ac­tual and the real

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC REVIEWS - TONY CLAY­TON-LEA

IMELDA MAY Love, Life, Flesh, Blood ★★★★ Decca Records

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. imel­

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