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Imelda May album review: She has the blend of strength and sensitivity

Imelda May has the blend of strength and sensitivity, and more hinterland than most… 11 Past The Hour is crying out to be performed live

Imelda May                                   11 Past The Hour                                  Out Friday

Rating:

Imelda May is a late developer. She was 29 when she released her debut album, 34 when she first topped the charts in her native Ireland, and 41 when she finally parted company with her peroxide rockabilly quiff.

Even now, at 46, with three UK Top 10 albums behind her, May is no household name. But if you’ve ever seen her in concert you’ll know all about her star quality.

She has the voice, the magnetism, the blend of strength and sensitivity, and more hinterland than most.

Imelda May (above) is a late developer. She was 29 when she released her debut album and 34 when she first topped the charts in her native Ireland

Imelda May (above) is a late developer. She was 29 when she released her debut album and 34 when she first topped the charts in her native Ireland

On her last album, Life Love Flesh Blood, she reinvented herself, renouncing the rockabilly and switching to piano ballads and blues-rock chuggers. ‘This is me,’ she said then, and she proves it now by sticking to much the same mix.

The backing track may be an acoustic strum you’ve heard a hundred times before, but you still want to know what May will do with it. She and her main collaborator, Tim Bran, don’t write love songs so much as love scenes, drawing you in with vivid details. 

When we finally re-enter each other’s homes, 11 Past The Hour could spark a few romances.

The title track is a gorgeous torch song halfway between Nancy Sinatra and Anna Calvi. Can’t Say and Solace are smouldering ballads, showing that May’s fringe is not her only nod to Chrissie Hynde. 

Just One Kiss, featuring Noel Gallagher on vocals and Ronnie Wood on guitar, is a Faces-style stomper with a side order of sauce.

Made To Love is a bustling anthem narrated by love itself, which takes the opportunity to speak for the entire human race. May has form here, as the author of a no-nonsense poem that went viral during lockdown last year: it was called You Don’t Get To Be Racist And Irish.

The whole album is crying out to be performed live. May is on the bill at Black Deer in Kent, which should be the first festival of the summer (June 25-27). The organisers have put her down for early Friday evening, with good reason. 

She could get a party started in a convent. 

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