Imelda May

Life Love Flesh Blood  (Deluxe Edition)


There was a time when quite a few ace chanteuses were on the Decca label. It seems appropriate for Ms May to be releasing this set on the iconic label at this time in her personal life and artistic journey. Like most if not all of us, she has spent time on the rocky road of personal turmoil. This is bound to come out in her work and why not ? Music and songwriting and poetry let things out of your system..hence the oh so human need for archery targets, punchbags and the ears of the sympathetic…..

So the challenge is to create without trying the patience of fans with Adele-style woe-is-the-multi-millionaire-me angstfest anthems of the Dame of Dullness. Most of us already like and have heard at concerts May’s voice, suited as it is to upbeat rockabilly material and guitar-drilled torch songs. And where is she taking it now? This album tells us. Maybe like Graham Nash’s last release it is the record she has to make to move on. Production here is by T Bone Burnett, by the way, and Marc Ribot lurks among the guitar players….

Call Me starts the collection in reflective mode, all acoustic guitars and reverb. If I didn’t know the producer identity, I’d guess Daniel Lanois. The voice sounds tender but yearning, in a Tift Merritt kind of way. The low register guitar solo is restrained and before we know it the instrumentation is building up. A really beautiful number, well performed. Next cut Black Tears is taken at a heartbreak pace and in the background we hear a crying guitar. It is Mr Jeff Beck. Reminds me of the time we saw Imelda guest with Beck at The Royal Albert Hall, the other guest was some bloke called Dave from Pink Floyd. Jeff breaks into a sad-sound solo @ 2:02 mining his SleepWalk armoury. The vocal becomes more anguished as horns cruise in but it is all held in check and the songs doesn’t race away. The ghost of Julie London smiles down from above.

Should’ve Been You has somewhat bitter lyric and what sounds like a glockenspiel in the backdrop, all over an almost doowop pace. May lets her voice ride the somewhat dense hint-of-Spector arrangement. In passing, these songs are all keyed perfectly, some thought has gone into this. Really, it’s torch singing but without the histrionics and quivering bottom lip and eyelash batting. But the power is there and especially on this cut; Sixth Sense is bluesier and the breathy voice and in-your-air sensual delivery. Human uses tremelo’d guitar and innocent vocal, leaning into country, very catchy too with the backbeat..put me in mind of Jess & The Bandits. The ascending passage works well and Imelda negotiates with ease. How Bad Can A Good Girl Be is altogether more conspiratorial in its delivery, a Hispanic touch. May almost under-sings the song, to great effect it must be said. Temptation is a cool theme when your voice has these timbres and a knowing feel inbuilt. The guitar here is great, so Waits-ish (no surprise).

Bad Habit is more emphatic with short delay and a sexy vocal, we are in Peggy Lee territory. But it’s about finances rather than libido! The Hit The Road Jack feel helps things along and you almost expect Ray Charles to join in ; Levitate is Chris Isaak territory and again May can sing this with plenty in reserve, but she never sounds over-controlled as that heartfelt touch is never far away. When It’s My Time is thankfully not about medical matters but a languid soul ballad decorated by the keys of Jools Holland and he gives it the sweeping Hammond treatment. In essence a gospel tune. One of the best singing performances on the disc, certainly.

Leave Me Lonely is much rockier with an almost Groundhogs beat and fuzzy guitars and with May almost sounding in phrasing close to Chrissie Hynde. I wonder whether that was the intention? A good cut to include, for balance. The Girl I Used To Be has tumbling acoustic guitar work and a light folky vocal. A tale of generational cycles and presumably autobiographical. A lovely performance and an obvious live show encore.

Bonus tracks now and The Longing is solemn thumping rocker with a weightier Banshees-tinged vocal and dark ambience..on with the long black lace gloves? Flesh & Blood is guitar-led nightclub stuff, almost like Sixteen Tons in impact and with the band off the leash compared to the more disciplined main album content. Game Changer is again grittier with May singing with power and punch and a Goth edge. She can do this material and very well. Closing cut Love And Fear is a purposeful mid-pace rocker with solid horn riffing.

The cover art gives May a monochrome Jane Birkin/Charlotte Gainsbourg look. It is a good choice as she looks terrific. The songs could almost all – from their melodies and chord progressions – have been written in the Fifties. Until the bonus cuts where Imelda toughens up and with no less success, so with the excellent artwork and images the booklet version is the one to purchase, I venture.

Pete Sargeant


Imelda May's new studio album 'Life Love Flesh Blood' is out now on Decca.

It is available in standard CD, Deluxe Edition CD, Download and Vinyl formats. 

To watch Imelda's new music video and to find out her tour dates read about it here:

For more information visit her official website here:

Imelda May