It’s odd that after four albums released under her own name, Imelda May is still mainly known as a singer who lends her skills to others. Her role as Jeff Beck’s vocalist helped advance her career and gain attention, but the fact that she’s also performed with the likes of Lou Reed, Jools Holland, Smokey Robinson and Tom Jones has served to keep her in the shadows while others take center stage. That’s a shame, especially given May’s verve and vitality. Indeed, it’s become increasingly clear with each successive effort, that it’s finally time that she was ceded the spotlight all for her own.
As if to assert herself, the songs on May’s boldly titled new album Life, Love, Flesh, Blood show her operating with a much greater degree of savvy and moxie. She frequently adapts the guise of a late night chanteuse, with songs such as “Black Tears,” “Levitate” and “How Bad Can a Good Girl Be” boasting a sound that’s teasingly suggestive with a degree of vulnerability that makes them that much more enticing. “Tell me who takes care of me,” she asks on “Should Have Been You,” followed by her insistence,“It should have been you.”
May rarely leaves anything to the imagination while telling her would-be lovers her heart is open and her willingness complete. “I swear I’ll try to be…the best of me,” she declares on “Human,” suggesting that for all the disappointment she’s endured along the way (her marriage to former bandmate Darrel Higham ended in 2015), she’s still determined to give love a chance. “So lonely for you,” she wails on the rocking “The Longing,” one of four exceptional bonus tracks added to the album’s deluxe edition.
It’s little wonder then that May’s come-hither desire becomes the central theme, with the music providing the appropriate cushion to buttress her intents. It’s mostly twilight jazz, but varied enough to wander to an occasional tango (“I Choose Love”), Van Morrison-like balladry (“Call Me”) or far more edgier intents (“Leave Me Lonely,” “Game Changer”). And though she makes no secret of her wish for romance, May is at her best when she tosses subtlety aside. “Sixth Sense” is an ideal example, a sly saunter that boasts an obvious agenda. “When you touch me rub a dub dub/You got my mind in the gutter of love.” There’s no mistaking her passion. And with Life, Love, Flesh, Blood, May makes every intention clear.