Dublin-born rockabilly sensation Imelda May is further proof that the Irish are the European torchbearers of soul.
Backed by a band that includes her husband Darrel Higham on guitar, she alternately growls, shouts, purrs and croons on Love Tattoo, her first major-label release. (Her debut, No Turning Back, was released under her maiden name, Imelda Clabby.)
The buxom brunette, often clothed in leopard-print blouses and skin-tight jeans or skirts, channels the likes of Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin. Imelda grabs us with a bawdy bang on the first track, “Johnny Got A Boom Boom”, a delightfully faux-raunchy number about her bassist’s new double bass — insert your own double entendre here.
“Feel Me” continues the uptempo rhythm with Imelda doing an intense and breathy, smoky blues that features Higham’s scorching guitar work. She begs her lover to feel the pain he’s caused, to put himself in her place: “You hurt me like never before/Dragged my heart from heaven to the floor.”
A slinky torch song, “Knock 123” seems a bit misplaced in the mix, but it’s surprisingly engaging once you realize it’s about a ghost who keeps loving the boy she left behind. She’s always just a knock on the wall away: “Just call on me, I’ll always be near.” The percussive heartbeat at the end is wonderfully creepy.
“Big Bad Handsome Man” begins with a Professor Longhair piano roll, and with the muted trumpet and infectious backbeat, you’d swear you were strolling into a club in the Vieux Carre in New Orleans. The title track and “Smotherin’ Me” are downright danceable rockers worthy of Chrissy Hynde and The Pretenders, as well as Rockpile, at the height of their powers.
“Smokers’ Song” is a jazzy express train with an interesting backstory about a chainsmoker looking for the right kind of man; “Meet You At The Moon” is pure crooning jazz. Both are exceptionally well done.
“Fallin’ In Love With You Again”, dedicated to Higham, is a gospel tune praising true love. Absolutely divine.
Imelda executes these multiple styles with near perfection, likely attributable to her early work in burlesque shows and with the jazz/swing band Blue Harlem. Rock ‘n’ roll is her first love, having discovered Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent when she was nine. Now — retro outfits and inverted uber spitcurl (called a “quiff”) aside — this woman can sing with equal parts power, passion, and sensitivity.
After her show-stopping performance with Jeff Beck for the Les Paul tribute on the Grammys, the two are currently touring and performing Les Paul and Mary Ford covers, as well as Imelda’s own songs.
Look for another album soon. Until then, check out the video for the first single, “Psycho“.
Visit ImeldaMay.com for tour dates.