May has an imperious, take-no-prisoners personality, and can certainly electrify a tune.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010
Although rock’n’roll is readily associated with hotly wired vocalists, it is also a genre in which musicians can take pride of place, primarily because the genre grew from rhythm & blues, which itself was partially shaped by the input of great players who’d been blooded in big bands. Imelda May’s engaging third album makes this point in no uncertain terms.
As much as she is the star of the show, the group that supports her is well on the money, with the drums-double bass axis of Steve Rushton and Al Gare locking down the walking blues lines impressively while trumpeter Dave Priseman provides concise, wistful interjections that occasionally have a mariachi grace to them. But the key member of the band is arguably guitarist Darrel Higham, whose wiry rhythmic lines and growling, tremolo-wobble chords are a potent foil to May’s gutsy contralto.
The London-based Dubliner is an imperious, take-no-prisoners personality who can certainly electrify a tune with the tigerish yelps and whoops that run deep into the marrow of the blues. In fact, on the moodier pieces, May has a tone that slightly recalls Carmel, the singer whose raw, somber songs have aged well in the past two decades. Like Carmel, May writes the bulk of the material and impresses with both melody and lyric, none more so than the hard times chronicle of Kentish Town Blues, which smartly distills the realities of life at the low end of the social scale, right down to "those stews that lasted three days into four".
Mayhem effectively proves that Imelda May is an artist of real substance and it will be interesting to see how she develops in due course, for as much as she has the rock‘n’roll template down pat it would be a shame if it became a sine qua non. There are times when the band slides into Cochraneisms that border on pastiche, but several others when the arrangements tilt into a pleasingly undefined stylistic space and suggest that May could be more than a retro queen who can sport a quiff with style.