Collaborating with Jeff Beck, Imelda May's kitschy presence as preserved for posterity on the iconic guitar hero's Rock 'n' Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul) (Atco, 2011)is in stark contrast to the sultry black and white portrait that adorns Life. Love. Flesh. Blood.
Not surprisingly, then, the British chanteuse stakes out an equally sensuous, shadowy terrain on the record, beginning with the opening track "Call Me." The spacious depth of T Bone Burnett's production just about equals the glow in May's voice as she sings this, one of the eleven self-composed songs on the record; it's an effect deepened during the course of "Black Tears," where El Becko's guitar slices through the air in a soft arc behind the woman's voice, that is, when his rhythm chords aren't insinuating their way to the forefront.
Unfortunately, the illuminating arrangement there gives way to a more pro-forma approach on "Shoulda Been You," where Burnett's overly-facile touch undermines the emotional honesty of the song and the singing. Some arch rockabilly style guitar (Marc Ribot's?) is only slightly less misplaced than the bell-like tones echoing off in the distance of each refrain. "Sixth Sense" works more movingly because the instruments mirror the emotional undercurrent of the tune, as it emanates directly from May's singing.
Hints of Phil Spector-esque production values there blossom in full for "Human," one of the least intimate tracks here. A similar Spanish motif percolates through "How Bad Can A Good Girl Be?," yet it's appropriate to the suggestive theme of the composition, not to mention far less obvious than the singer/songwriter's strain for a clipped vocal phrasing a nuance almost lost in a mechanical backing track.
Imelda May turns role-playing to her advantage, however, on "When It's My time," playing the torch singer to the hilt; perhaps not coincidentally, this is the other track here featuring a guest withing the corps of accompanists Burnett usually employs: Jools Holland from Squeeze coaxes something truly soulful from the piano he plays and it's commensurate with the efforts exerted by the woman singing, not to mention the openly-vulnerable lyrics. Unfortunately, the addition of a choir toward the end of the track overshadows the confessional air that permeates it til that point, illustrating the lack of discipline that too often afflicts Life. Love. Flesh. Blood.
A cynic might suggest Imelda May might know better given this is her fifth recording, while a healthy skeptic would theorize she gave due benefit of the doubt to a producer with T Bone Burnett's resume. Either way, the winning personality she exudes on "The Girl I Used to Be" posits the thought that she'd flourish in a more intimate setting where her varied charms would become prevail.
Call Me; Black Tears; Should've Been You; Sixth Sense; Human; How Bad Can a Good Girl Be; Bad Habit; Leave Me Lonely; Levitate; When It's My Time; The Girl I Used To Be;.
Imelda May: vocals, backing vocals; Marc Ribot: guitar; ukulele; T-Bone Burnett: guitar; Patrick Warren: keyboards: Carl Wheeler: organ; Dennis Crouch : acoustic Bass; Zachary Dawes: electric bass; Jay Bellerose: drums; Darrell Leonard: horns.