If there's an overlap between burlesque and rockabilly, Dubliner Imelda May embodies it. While she looks amazing in skintight leopard-print and red lipstick, musically she shows there's nothing retro about rockabilly. For her it's a living, vital genre.
Mayhem is May's third album and was originally released in Ireland and the UK in September and October of last year respectively and spawned an impressive four singles.
She wrote virtually every song (apart from a cover of Tainted Love, which has been rejigged as a feverish waltz for guitar, drums and voice), and sings them with heart and humour.
Except for the two more-than-competent country-inflected numbers, “Eternity” and “Proud and Humble”, May and her band otherwise remain true to their core repertoire of upbeat rockabilly and slower balladry.
“Kentish Town Waltz” is a strong step forward in terms of making May’s slower tracks almost as compelling as her upbeat work, but on Mayhem the softer side generally continues to play second string. The propulsive “Let Me Out” brings the main body of the album to a classy conclusion, not least because of her husband and guitarist Darrel Higham’s dynamic solo.
Things are going well for May these days. Professional support from Jeff Beck and Wanda Jackson, with whom she’s performed several times, including at a gig in Central Park earlier this week, is helping May become as well known in North America as in her homeland.
Mayhem is an essential listen for those who believe, as May does, in the living, breathing powers of rockabilly and the blues.