Imelda May Life. Love. Flesh. Blood. Decca Records

life-love-flesh-blood-album-coverMuch has been made of Imelda May’s new direction following her marital split and her hook up (professionally) with T Bone Burnett for this album which promised to move on from her rockabilly with a bodhran premise. On stage she has ditched the fifties themed polka dots and teased hair coming on instead like Chrissie Hynde’s sister with rock chick chic but Live. Love. Flesh. Blood , despite trailing credentials to die for, remains resolutely in the middle of the road. As with her previous manifestation which was a somewhat diluted version of Cramps lite rockabilly, here she attempts to croon like  Patsy Cline or dive into the badlands of Mexicana but there’s little sense of daring and despite Burnett’s awesome heritage he fails to inject any real passion into the album.

Several of the songs just fail to achieve lift off. They may seem impressive but like Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose ambition defeats design and delivery. The vampish Bad Habit harks back to songs like Love Potion No 9 but it fails to swing and the thrash of Leave Me Lonely abandons all subtlety sounding somewhat like Cher. Similarly, Should’ve Been You has a drum sound that sticks out like a sore thumb while Imelda’s voice seems to stretch for the high notes without having undergone a warm up beforehand. Much more successful are the quieter moments, the opening Call Me a delicate late night murmur with some sweet guitar that recalls Van Morrison’s Crazy Love while Black Tears is a Patsy Cline like bar room swoon with guest guitarist Jeff Beck adding some swell retro guitar slide. Sixth Sense is a nod to May’s previous good girl gone bad rockabilly mode and it slinks along with a fine atmospheric patina while How Bad Can A good Girl Be is soaked in Mexicana romance. Levitate roams around in similar territory and here the band and May do conjure up a romantic moment with guitar and strings sensual and seductive. May closes the album with an acoustic based number that may be somewhat autobiographical on The Girl I Used To Be. With a very slight Celtic folk lilt to it, it kind of highlights May’s dilemma, straining for the mainstream while trying to retain some roots. Ultimately, the record is destined for fairweather listeners and as such will probably sell a bundle.

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Lera Lynn. Resistor.

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While some folk might have caught a glimpse of Lera Lynn at Celtic Connections when she supported Sturgill Simpson most will probably know her through her work on the television series, True Detective. Just as season one of the series raised the profile of The Handsome Family when their song, Far From Any Road, was used as the theme music, Lynn has benefited from her association with the show. Several of her songs (some co-written with Roseanne cash and T Bone Burnett) appeared throughout the episodes while she also appeared as a “shadowy” bar singer. Folks expecting however a rerun of the languid country tinged songs that populated her last album, 2014’s The Avenues, might be somewhat surprised by the direction she’s taken here.

Resistor features Lynn and co-producer Joshua Grange playing most of the instruments on a set of songs that creep from the speakers, a bit like that Japanese ghoul from The Ring. There’s an emphasis on percussion and reverbed guitars creating an atmosphere that rumbles and roots around in that dark American hinterland; neon lit motels, dark highways and ghosts on the highway. There are moments that recall Twilight Hotel (the duo that featured Brandy Zdan), a whisp of the doomed romanticism of Chris Isaak and, on the opening Shape Shifter, a nod to bands like The Breeders.

Shape Shifter actually does the album a disservice. It’s a fair enough song with a fine guitar solo midway through but its robotic rhythm and routine verse/chorus shoehorned into a radio friendly groove doesn’t really cut it. The following songs fall into the same trap. What You Done with its lead bass line and Goth like darkness, Drive’s would be highway drama and Cut + Burn’s melodrama are songs that just don’t quite cut the mustard.  Things look up with Run The Night, the instrumentation is enhanced with some acoustic guitars in the mix while the percussion is more restrained, enhancing the song as opposed to dominating it and from here on in the album just gets better.

For The Last Time is a well paced and fully realised version of Lynn’s noirish dreamsongs. Her vocals are allowed to ride above the song and the guitars coil around her with a fine degree of menace. Fade Into The Black approaches that juncture where Roy Orbison and David Lynch intersect while Slow Motion Countdown is a dream like slow waltz tinted with an old time veneer reminiscent of The Walkabouts’ Prague wanderings. Scratch + Hiss continues in a similar vein, Lynn a chanteuse here, simpering over an opalescent backdrop of shimmering guitars.

Overall the album shows that Lynn isn’t one to rest on her laurels, some of her choices here somewhat daring in their refusal to go down a gravel road that would see her as just another singer wanting to sound like Lucinda Williams. However some of the songs lack passion while others show some promise. You can make your own mind up as she is touring the UK in May, all dates are here

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The Wrights. Red and Yellow, Blue and Green.

Husband and wife duo, Adam and Shannon Wright from Georgia had a taste of stardom when they were caught up on the coat tails of Adam’s uncle, country superstar, Alan Jackson with their debut album released on a major label and touring in the big time. Unfortunately their second album was nixed by their label leaving them to find their feet again as independents.
A classic couple they complement each other in the grand tradition of Gram and Emmylou or most recently Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. There are moments on this fine release when one could be fooled into thinking this is indeed the follow up to Raising Sand. Apart from the vocal interplay there is some sublime guitar playing not too far removed from the contributions Marc Ribot added to the Plant/Krauss collaboration and the production is on a par with T Bone Burnett’s.
The nine songs range from the haunting opener Since You Left Me to the rockabilly rhythms of The way That I’m Living. Special mention however goes to Flying Home which is a polished diamond of a song, sweet as the early Eagles where lush guitars sweep the song along and We were Made to Love, a haunting song, soft and hushed. Above all there is a shared affinity with The Everly Brothers tradition, a tradition that is shared by Plant and Krauss and Parsons and Harris
All in all a gem of an album that deserves to be heard.
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Since You Left Me