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Cambridge embraces Imelda May's new direction

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Imelda May bids the audience goodnight at the Corn Exchange (6/5/17). Picture: Adrian Peel
Imelda May bids the audience goodnight at the Corn Exchange (6/5/17). Picture: Adrian Peel

The Irish superstar received a very warm reception on her return to Cambridge, playing most of the songs off her latest record, Life Love Flesh Blood.

The cover of Life Love Flesh Blood
The cover of Life Love Flesh Blood

Despite the success of her fifth studio album (almost unanimous praise right across the board from the critics and a number five chart placing in the UK), quite a lot has been made – judging by comments left on YouTube – about Imelda May’s new sound, from rockabilly glamour girl to soul-baring diva, from stripped down, toe-tapping tunes to bombastic soul, jazz and blues-inspired introspection.

Opting to kick things off with one of these heartfelt moments (some of the songs on the album were heavily influenced by the artist’s 2015 divorce from her husband of 13 years, guitarist Darrel Higham), May began with the beautiful Call Me, seated and with minimal accompaniment.

The 42-year-old Dubliner, looking good in a short black dress, followed it up with When It’s My Time, track nine on Life Love Flesh Blood – this time backed by her very talented seven-piece band.

“I’ve been to Cambridge many times before, and each time it seems to get better,” she said, addressing the crowd for the first time a couple of songs in. “Let’s see how we get on tonight.”

May wrung every drop of emotion out of her newer, more confessional material – showcasing her well-honed gift for melody and thoughtful, observational lyrics in the process (particular highlights among the new songs were Black Tears, about how mascara running when a woman cries resembles ‘black tears’, the anthemic Should’ve Been You and the nostalgic The Girl I Used to Be).

She also displayed her playful sense of humour, encouraging the audience to “feel free to move around – security might try and stop you, but there’s more of you than there are them!”

Though more recently-written songs took centre stage, there was also room for older tracks. “This is for all the big bad handsome men in the house!” announced May, before launching into the insanely groovy song of the same name from her 2008 LP, Love Tattoo.

That particular album was represented again, when she and the band enthusiastically rocked out to perhaps the most widely-known of all her tunes, Johnny Got a Boom Boom.

“This is your last chance to freak out!” exclaimed May, keeping the feelgood vibe going, ahead of Mayhem, the explosive title track of her 2010 album.

The singer expressed her gratitude to the crowd for continuing to support her, despite the fact that she appears to have left behind the genre in which she made her name, for the time being at least.

The encore included a superb rendition of Walking in the Sand, originally a duet with guitar legend Jeff Beck and included on his 2011 live album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul).

While the new music from this acclaimed singer/songwriter has generated debate – and may have alienated some of her long-term fans – for me, Life Love Flesh Blood is Imelda May’s best album to date.

With that in mind, there’s probably never been a better time to see her live than now.

For more on Imelda May, visit: imeldamay.co.uk.

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