Tuesday, April 26, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 860: Imelda May

Greetings, gentle readers! I return from a long weekend with much music success.

As a lover and collector of music I have a running list of CDs that I’m always looking for. On Saturday I found the third oldest title on the list at Ditch Records (Ice T’s first album, “Rhyme Pays” from back in 1987). I also found Billy Bragg’s “Mr. Love and Justice” (from 2008), also an ancient artifact on the list.

As a collector of a dead technology I’ve noticed that except for ultra-popular titles, anything from the late eighties (when CDs were new) or in the last 8 years (now that CDs are dying out) are hard to find if you miss them on the first print run. It’s made worse when you are attracted to obscure artists.

But that just makes the hunt that much more rewarding!

Disc 860 is….Love Tattoo
Artist: Imelda May

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover? Imelda is chillin’ in a diner, looking thoughtful. I love the swirl in her hair (Sheila has the same ‘do right now!). Regrettably, the washed out “old-timey” quality to the picture doesn’t show Imelda off in glorious colour.

Also, I wonder how she got that big booth when she’s dining alone? Maybe she’s meeting friends and she’s the first to arrive. Maybe that expression on her face is her wondering where everyone is.

How I Came To Know It: For a while my cable provider gave me access to a music channel in the hopes I’d buy it once it was no longer free. I didn’t, but when I had access I taped about 40 episodes of a British show called “Later…with Jools Holland” which was basically former Squeeze pianist Jools Holland’s show where he hosted live acts on a series of sound stages that all faced each other.

I discovered a lot of new music through the Jools Holland show (which is known for amazing live performances) and there was no better discovery than Imelda May, who captured my heart singing “Johnny Got a Boom Boom.”

How It Stacks Up:  I have three Imelda May albums and I like all of them. “Love Tattoo” comes in a respectable second.

Ratings: 3 stars but close to 4

“Love Tattoo” is the earliest Imelda May album I have and also the smokiest.

Imelda May is first and foremost a rockabilly artist, but “Love Tattoo” has a delightful dash of lounge crooner. The combination gives the record a timeless quality that just gets better on repeat listens.

The opening track is a delightful combination of both rock and long, and has rightly become the flagship song of the record as well as May’s early career. “Johnny Got a Boom Boom” is about a boy with his bass guitar, and how he can make the ladies swoon when he plays it. If that doesn’t sound heroic enough for you then you haven’t heard the song. As you would expect, the bass playing is stellar, and I give full credit to bassist Al Gare, but Imelda’s voice is equally a star, as she switches effortlessly from husky seductress to rocker chick and back again.

The album is laden with high energy tracks, including “Feel Me” which lets everyone else in the band (piano, guitar and drum) get a little glory without ever feeling bloated. Other standouts include “Love Tattoo” and “Smoker’s Song.” On the latter May manages to make a maniacal laugh in the chorus feel derisive, playful, sexy and more than a little crazy in equal measure.

When she slows things down, as she does on “Knock 123” and “Meet You at the Moon” May’s voice takes on a soft bluesy tone without ever losing its power. Even when singing a seductive and intimate song, she always feels completely in command of the situation. Her voice is one step down from the all-time greats, but it is a very small step down and she more than makes up for it with skillful delivery and conviction.

Not only that, May is a gifted songwriter. “Meet You at the Moon” sounded so familiar to me that I looked it up to see who had originally written it, only to find it was May after all (she writes 10 of the album’s 12 tracks).  Like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Imelda May is able to take old musical forms and write brand new songs that are both timeless and fresh.

My favourite of the softer tracks is “Falling in Love with You Again”. Another Imelda May original, the song is a pretty little waltz, lifting and falling like a relationship reborn on the end of each verse, always settling into a familiar but beautiful lilting pattern, much like the relationship it is describing.

Throughout the album, May takes measured risks with jazz or Latin flourishes, but avoids letting the album ever feel indulgent. If I had a minor quibble it would be that she probably could have pushed it a bit further; something she does on later records.

It would be easy for a record like this to sound dated or insincere, but the musicianship is great, and May sings every line with such conviction she sells every word. Tough and tender in equal measure, Imelda May has the playful style of a fifties pinup, and the songwriting talent to back all that glitz up. This is thoughtful music that never forgets to also have fun.

Best tracks:  Johnny Got a Boom Boom, Feel Me, Love Tattoo, Smoker’s Song, Falling in Love With You Again

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