Album Review: Imelda May ‘Mayhem’

I remember first watching Imelda May perform ‘Johnny Got A Boom Boom’ on Jools Holland in 2008. Her music was straight out of another time, a bass-heavy rockabilly band fronted by Imelda – a red-lipped, raven-haired Irish stunner. Now in her 30s, her career began at age 16, touring the Irish club circuit singing with blues bands, she was frequently barred from her own gigs for being underage. “I was getting tips from the best musicians in Dublin,” May said. “One of them said, ‘your voice is great, but it needs to roughen.” It was around this time, when driving a tearful Imelda to a gig, that her father asked her “”Is your heart broken? Excellent. Now you can sing the blues.”

‘Mayhem’, her third studio album, fuses rockabilly, jazz, Elvis and blues together – forging a refreshingly retro sound.

Your smile seemed willin’, you hid behind your porcelain fillin’. Oh big lights, so pretty, got swept away by lies it’s a pity.

Opening track ‘Pulling The Rug’ picks up where ‘Johnny Got A Boom Boom’ left off, with a blazing bassline leading into Imelda’s sultry tones, oozing stories of being lead astray.

Do you remember we traipsed around from pub to pound shop through Kentish Town? Only a fiver to our name.

Track 4 ‘Kentish Town Waltz’ allows Imelda to break away from her typical yelps and show off something of a rarity on this album – a beautifully jazzy ballad voice, picked-up again in ‘Too Sad To Cry’.

Imelda’s take on the Soft Cell classic ‘Tainted Love’ is covered on Track 14. A little bizarre, bordering on pastiche, but she just about pulls it off without moving into territory already covered by The Baseballs.

Aside from Imelda’s unstoppable sass, her band really makes this album special. Blistering jazz trumpets, Darrel Higham’s guitar work and Al Gare’s unstoppable upright bass bring a vibrant, fun feel…the sort of sound you’d expect to hear in a Taratino film soundtrack.

In ‘Mayhem’, Imelda’s influences, confidence, and artistic credibility are allowed to truly speak for themselves. Highly recommended.

If you don’t buy the album, download: Pulling The Rug, Sneaky Freak, Tainted Love. 

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