Sunday, May 1, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: IMELDA MAY - MAYHEM
Every once and awhile somebody tries to bring back rockabilly, usually by playing it straight, just like the late 50's cats, and dressing the same too. Think The Stray Cats. The trouble with rockabilly is that it can be a bit limited. Even Elvis dropped it for pop, until The Beatles supercharged things, rock 'n' roll was in danger of actually being a passing fad. As much as I enjoy diving into some vintage sounds, usually my fix is over after a side of Gene Vincent.
This Ms. May is different though. She was first introduced to us North Americans last year as a guest singer with Jeff Beck on the Grammys, and later on the cool Beck tribute DVD to Les Paul, Rock 'n' Roll Party. She cut quite the striking image, with a shock of blonde in her black hair, and curvy vintage dresses. She also has the chops, as Beck knows, a tough-as-nails singer, who could have given the greasers a heart attack. That's just the start of things though.
May comes from Ireland, where her first album shot to number one, and the whole British rocker mentality still exists. She discovered rockabilly by hearing her brother's Elvis and Eddie Cochran discs, and by the mid-2000's was doing her own stuff. But instead of keeping it all retro, May and her band have added lots of energy and excitement to the sound. The guitars aren't just that classic sound, they are also louder, a bit punkier, more modern. While the rhythm section has a sound of snare drum and stand-up bass, it's mixed up big and bold. It's all fleshed out with horns, too. There's more of everything, and best of all, May never seems like an actress in a retro show.
What helps make this so new is that May and Co. haven't just done a bunch of covers, or trotted out 50's lyric cliches. The new tunes here, almost completely written by her, have a film noir theme, with titles including Psycho, Mayhem, and Sneaky Freak. You'll find other words like weird, creepy and grubby, and the last two are in a love song! At the same time, it's well-produced and never sloppy, so you certainly couldn't call it psychobilly, or even punk. It's simply fun and well-executed, and accomplishes for rockabilly what young k.d. lang did for old country in her first, Patsy Cline-inspired days.