If you’re familiar with Irish singer Imelda May then you might think her new look and sound are a little dramatic. But on Life. Love. Flesh. Blood she strips back the artifice of her rockabilly style and sound to create some brilliantly different disguises.
From the opening sounds of Call Me we understand that this is a heartbreak record. All the best singers take pain and put it to use – there’s nothing else you can do. Her despair can be heard most clearly on Black Tears, with Jeff Beck. This is the best song on the album by far with its heartsore lyrics and soulful delivery – imagine Patsy Cline at her most devastated and you’re almost there.
Should’ve Been You and Human take things in a more soft rock direction and her versatile voice dazzles. The songwriting is so strong throughout every change of tone and direction. The jazz-influenced songs How Bad Can A Good Girl Be and Levitate have a gorgeous sultry vibe. Imagine smoky clubs and film noir soundtracks.
The showstopper here is When It’s My Time – an old-school gospel number that has a vocal delivery to rival any classic soul sister. Jools Holland plays piano too and there’s even back up from a choir. When Imelda sings to the heavens ‘I’ve done the best that I could’ you can’t help but feel this is a direct expression of her feelings not only about her relationships but her musical history too.
There are still some echoes of her previous sound, with the vintage feel of songs like Sixth Sense. However some songs like Bad Habit and The Longing are crying out for a more rockabilly tempo. Perhaps when she plays these songs live she can find a balance between her previous style and the experimentation on this record.
By the end of Live. Love. Flesh. Blood it’s hard to know if we’ve finally heard the real Imelda May. Maybe wearing victory rolls and red lipstick every show was just too much effort. Maybe she just wanted to let loose. Whatever the reasons, it is rewarding to listen to her reinvention. Sometimes leaving things behind entirely is the only way to find yourself and truly move on.