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I don't think I can convey to you just how amazing Imelda May is, how much I love her or how outraged I am that she isn't the biggest freaking superstar in the universe. (Hearing Cheryl Cole repeating "I don't need a parachute" ad infinitum doesn't help matters.) Listening to the radio will be a bitter disappointment once you've treated your eardrums to this.
For some reason I was convinced Ms May must be American, but she hails from Dublin. She is a devotee of the classic rockabilly look - all tight skirts and two toned hair - which I think tends to brighten up the place in a way that jeans and t-shirts just can't do. When I saw her play at the 100 club in January, I was convinced she must be about 23, so lithe was her figure and youthful her features - but she is in fact 35. (Phew. I don't think I could stand it if she was this much cooler than I am, AND younger.) Incidentally, the gig was sold out - I got in by begging at the door.
Imelda started her career at the age of sixteen, singing covers in the blues clubs of Dublin. She continued juggling gigs with her day jobs of waitressing, face painting and working in an old people's home (to name but a few) until deciding to gamble on a full time music career.
Formerly the vocalist with Blue Harlem (on their albums "Talk to me" in 2005 and "Swing Street" in 2008) Imelda has created a stonking solo debut. While Blue Harlem (whose style is indicated by their name) released light hearted covers of classics such as "I can't give you anything but love," it seems that Imelda was itching to experiment with her range and style.
"Johnny got a boom boom" is perhaps her best known track, as it has an "official video" on youtube. (Where you can check it out - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhogVvwbwkw) It pains me to say this, but the video is not of the finest quality.) The lyrics would appear to be about a man playing a musical instrument, but somehow seem innuendo laden. What is a boom boom, anyway?
The skiffly beats and throaty vocals continue in "Wild about my lovin" and "Love tattoo" while "Knock 1 2 3" is possibly one of the sexiest, slinkiest numbers ever produced. Slow and sultry, with only minimal backing, it would appear to be about secret lovers ("Knock one, two, three on the wall...that will be our secret call....") but is actually about love that continues even after death. (Oddly, her website claims this angle was inspired by a "Most haunted" type of TV show, but with my very own ears I have heard Imelda explain that the influence came from an elderly lady she knew, who claimed to be visited by her ghostly late husband. (Maybe Imelda needs to have a word with her website writer...?)
From the opening piano riff of "Big bad handsome man," you know you're in for a bit of a good old fashioned jazz song. Imelda has been blessed with the ability to write well constructed songs and clever lyrics which roll off the tongue easily ("He's the devil divine, I'm so glad that he's mine..") going from guttural screams to sexy whispers in one breath.
She also glides seamlessly between styles, from scorching jazz to silky smooth love songs. "Falling in love with you again" tells of a long term relationship which may have its ups and downs but is still exciting. And while Imelda is probably better known for energetic jazzy rockabilly, she does romantic pretty well too, as she proves with her Ella Fitzgerald-worthy rendition of "Meet you at the moon."
Even the least catchy tune on the album has undeniably magnificent musicianship; "Feel me" is to my mind the weakest track, albeit one with a strong "story" - that of a lover who has been so hurt by the other's actions that nothing will be the same again - where do you go from here? (Having said that, in a month's time it will probably be at the top of my list- it's one of those albums where every song in turn will be your favourite at some point.)
A case in point: "Smokers' song" is one of those that you're not sure about at first, then it ends up being one of your best loved tracks in the entire world. Well, it's not often you have someone yelling "ha ha ha!" in the middle of a song. This is a humorous account of women getting chatted up by losers in bars, wondering if they are being too harsh on them - "Criteria a little too high?" and then finally cracking and telling them to get lost. This is a must-listen with delicious lyrics and delivery, not to mention irresistible piano playing which will get your toes tapping.
"Smothering me" is another feisty song that the proponents of "Girl power" can only dream about. Imelda uses innovative breathing techniques to punctuate lyrics about those lovers who just won't give her space.
"Watcha gonna do" is probably my favourite track - at the moment. It has a bit of a Western feel about it, with passionate cries of "Your handshake didn't mean jack!" and trombones seeming to suggest a gunfight at noon could be in order.
And where would a blues album be without a touch of New Orleans? This time the guitar is given centre stage as Imelda hollers "It's your voodoo working." Dr John would be proud.
In conclusion; let's make like Prefab Sprout and change the world with music. If we all buy albums made by talented, dedicated musicians like this, perhaps Simon Cowell will end his reign of terror. (Actually, I quite like X factor, but you can see my point...?)
Imelda May (2008)
Well, this is not generally my genre of music however, this woman's voice and the freaky cool nature of the songs have taken me a little by storm. Those that read my reviews (thank you) know that I often only download one or two tracks from an album; this album, like The King Blues, has been downloaded in its entirety.
Her genre is Rockabilly, though not in the old sense, but in a more, hip new way. Interestingly, iTunes lists the genre as 'blues'...na, don't think so!
She has a jazz and swing background which shine through in some of the numbers and I suppose that is what drew me to her, that and the fact that when I first heard 'Big, Bad, Handsome man' I was reminded, somehow of Tarantino movies, yep, she is that cool.
A Dubliner, no hint of accent in her vocals and correct me if I am wrong but I do not know of another Irish rockabilly singer or band. Feted by Jools Holland and you will understand why when you hear some of these tracks which fit very nicely with Mr Hollands style of piano playing.
I should state before I go any further, I am writing this review in a style that pleases me, as there are certain individuals that insist on giving me no more than a 'useful' rating whatever I write, however I write it, so you know what? I don't care!
The album opens with a very risqué number entitled 'Johnny got a Boom Boom', it has many meanings depending on what you are listening for, but to me it is pretty obvious what she is singing about. The beat is infectious, loud, foot tapping and raucous. A real rock and roll beat with each vocal phrase punctuated by symbols and drums and a guitar beat strums relentlessly throughout. The vocal is deep for a woman and sounds smokey, sexy and harsh all at once. Brilliant opener that sets the scene for a great album.
Track 2 (Feel Me) sees her vocal and the music get much jazzier and even has a hint of Latin, a wicked piano solo and again, that foot stomping rhythm, aided by some competent drumming, this album is a party all on its own make no mistake.
The third track ( Knock 123) again has a jazzy feel, but much more 'jazz lounge', her vocal here is meltingly good and similar to many jazz greats in that ability to make one sit back and just take it in. I should add that by this track on the first listen of the whole album I had fallen in love with her!
Moving on to track 4 (Wild About My Lovin') is pure hillbilly rockabilly a la early Elvis, not as fast as I would like for a song of this ilk, but quite fun, probably one of the weaker tracks, but passable none the less.
Big, Bad, Handsome Man at track 5 just blows me away every time I hear it; the mad trumpet, the infectious guitar and drums, the way she sings in a completely convincing way. The lyrics are fabulous and hark back to a day when women were submissive to the whims of strong men, somewhat un pc, but fun all the same. The trumpet punctuates every verse and chorus in a way that serves to give it a feel of New Orleans mixed with swing and jazz and boogie woogie all at once. This track is an absolute stunner, if you only download one track, make it this one.
Love Tattoo (track 6) the title track is everything that the previous track was and more, it is fast and furious, I love the gruffness of her vocals here. In truth, this is what she does best, sings this sort of song, not to everyone's taste I will concede, but pure fun.
Track 7 (Meet You at The Moon) sees Imelda slow it down for another jazz lounge number, if possible even more sultry than before, OMG I have so fallen for her voice, beautiful in a Melody Gardot kind of way.
Track 8, Smokers Song starts with a great run up and down the bass (cello to some, lol) which is often a signature of both jazz and early rock n roll songs. She really goes to town in parts of this song and is only outdone by the superb piano.
For track 9 (Smothering Me) think Jools Holland, think Chuck Berry, think early rock n roll mixed in with boogie woogie piano, fast and fun, good stuff to get bopping around the living room to.
Track 10, 'Falling in Love With You Again' is from that jazz lounge tradition again, yet has a much more contemporary feel. Very controlled and sultry with a simple lyrical composition, reminds me a bit of Colbie Caillat or Lenka, very now, could be the backing track for a sweet TV advert, lol. It is shallow, yet I really like it, sweet.
Okay, nearly to the end and we get track number 11 (Is Your Voodoo Working), OMG what a great track, very much like track 5 in that it is rockabilly jazz again, it also has a touch of the blues. What I like about this track is that she seems to 'give in' to the music (some great solos here on organ, drums and guitar) as in essence it is musically the best track on the album, very complex, yet her simple vocals complement that brilliantly.
Last track, very important as the opener was a stunner, the start of 'Watcha Gonna Do?' is a clunky piano, then she comes in all guns blazing with a very staccato vocal and that trumpet again, only this time no attempt to hide a Latin influence. Great close to an album.
This is one of those albums that goes largely undetected by general listening public, and what a shame for it is fantastic in every way, five stars without a doubt. This Irish vocalist is set for big things I guarantee it.
If her songs feature in a future Tarantino film, where they would fit perfectly, she will make it and be in everyone's CD collection.
Quite simply a big bad handsome CD.
I saw the Dublin-born Imelda May at a festival recently and am still recovering from the experience. What a voice and what a performance! Imelda May and her band are definitely an act to see live - she put in an energetic performance and seemed to be enjoying the set as much as the crowd did.
I bought Love Tattoo after the festival and of course, while it's not quite the experience of seeing her live set, it is immense. Her voice is just incredibly powerful and raw and is complemented by this album which shows off her vocal talents in everything from rockabilly and jazz to blues (she started her career in the Blues Clubs of Dublin). I think my favourite here is Johnny Got a Boom Boom which has some great riffs and shows the band at their best.
Imelda May and her band (which includes her husband guitarist Darrel Higham) put on a highly-professional performance with a mixture of soulful songs and upbeat tracks. I recommend seeing them live to experience the sheer energy and crowd feedback. They will be huge!
1. Johnny got a boom boom
2. 2. Feel me
3. known 123
4. Wild about my lovin
5. Big Bad Handsome Man
6. Love Tattoo
7. Meet you at the moon
8. Smoker's song
9. Smotherin' me
10. Falling in love with you again
11. It's your voodoo working
12. Watcha gonna do
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Johnny Got A Boom Boom
2 Feel Me
3 Knock 123
4 Wild About My Lovin
5 Big Bad Handsome Man
6 Love Tattoo
7 Meet You At The Moon - Imelda May, Darrel Higham, Danny McCormack, Al Gare, Dean Beresford, Graham Dominy, Mandy Parnell
8 Smokers' Song
9 Smotherin' Me - Imelda May, Darrel Higham, Danny McCormack, Al Gare, Dean Beresford, Graham Dominy, Mandy Parnell
10 Falling In Love With You Again
11 It's Your Voodoo Working - Imelda May, Darrel Higham, Danny McCormack, Al Gare, Dean Beresford, Graham Dominy, Mandy Parnell
12 Watcha Gonna Do