Imelda May at BBC Maida Vale Studios
Abandoning her signature rockabilly look, Imelda May graced the stage at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios donned in a modest dark grey tee and black leather-look leggings. It’s a far cry from the style she’s sported since bursting onto the music scene well over a decade ago, and although the absence of her signature quiff might unsettle some fans, what she lacks in voluminous coif, she more than makes up for in brand new soulful music and powerhouse vocals.
It’s here at the cosy BBC studio, furnished with leather chairs, brown wooden tables and dim atmospheric lighting – cleverly reminiscent of a 50s blues bar – that May treats the intimate audience with seven brand new tracks from her upcoming record, which she produced with T Bone Burnett. Attending the event, he gets several little shout-outs throughout her set and it’s clear the two have a great rapport.
Though it’s been over two years since the release of her fourth album Tribal, it’s plain that in this time the Irish musician has been busy creating new hits to please fans and newcomers alike. The show begins with the lights dimmed low – just the singer and her guitarist visible in the performing area. They open with a sombre number, Call Me, that showcases the crystal clarity of May’s voice and her ability to evoke the purest of emotion using it as her sole instrument.
After this, she is joined by the remainder of her band, which at first appears excessive in quantity, but once the set is in full swing, listeners realise it is completely necessary. They occupy the entire length of the stage area and add a fullness to each number that aids in achieving that really polished finish to each performance. One of the highlights of the evening is track Sixth Sense, which one already knows is going to be special from the start because the double bass gets whipped out. The song’s minor key, with sultry electric guitar riffs, makes it easy to envision as part of a cabaret show.
Should’ve Been You highlights the singer’s abilities: there’s a unique quality to her voice that is enviable, she seems able to effortlessly upgrade her vocals from a smooth, buttery coo to a coarse roar with such speed and ferocity that it almost takes spectators aback.
Describing this latest as her most honest and personal record to date, May has pulled out all the emotional stops and delivers a moving, refreshing performance that leaves the audience eager for more.
Li Sa Cee
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Watch the video for Wild Woman here: