“Should’ve Been You” – Imelda May (2017)

Posted: June 12, 2017 in 2017
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

If you have not heard the new Imelda May record LIFE LOVE FLESH BLOOD, then stop. Just listen.

Let me start by saying I am not a music critic. http://www.greatsongsneverdie.com is my avenue to write about great songs and songwriters. Discovering favorite tunes started when I was three years old. After 45 years, there are now thousands. Over the past 5 years, I have been sharing many of these songs through ‘The List’ on GSND.com website, Facebook Group and Twitter. A great song to my ears always has an ‘it’ factor, which can be a catchy hook and melody, unique vocal phrasing, a groove with space to catch musical overtones, and without fail, an energy that evolves and builds to a crescendo over the course of the song — but there are so many nuances that can contribute to making a song great. I know an ‘it’ song immediately and it usually stops me dead in my tracks. It energizes me and results in replaying, dissecting and analyzing the song over and over for a period of time. The song becomes a permanent part of me, then the search for the next ‘it’ song continues. As fired up as I always get from the initial listens to an incredible new song, I can never recall being so positively stunned by what I was hearing quite like I was this past week with Imelda May’s new album. My God, what a voice.

I first heard Imelda May on a PBS special honoring guitar legend Les Paul back around 2011. Jeff Beck was performing with a swinging band led by a mesmerizing female vocalist I was not familiar with. Doing some quick online research, I learned about the Irish-born singer with the throwback Jazz-era voice who was making a big musical mark in Ireland and U.K. with her rockabilly sound and style. Subsequently, after buying her LOVE TATTOO, then MAYHEM and TRIBAL records, I have been a fan ever since despite never really hearing much about her in the U.S.

With the release of her new record in April, one thing became immediately apparent – this is a different Imelda May. Gone is her trademark two-tone quaff hair style that made her so easily identifiable. The transformation from her fiery rockabilly persona to her new look is so drastic, I wasn’t sure the picture I first saw on her website http://www.imeldamay.com was really her. Musically, the change is equally as drastic. As much as I love her earlier works, when May performs her new songs, it just seems the world is finally seeing and hearing the real Imelda May. Maybe the vibrant rockabilly front-woman with three Irish chart-topping albums was the real Imelda before. Maybe the naturally created persona evolved into an tired expectation from people over the years. Regardless, life is about growing and changing. Give her credit for pulling the plug and shedding any potential disguise of who she is today.

The shift in a new direction has produced the most amazing results in her songwriting. I love how she openly states in interviews that in the past she wrote “like a good politician, saying what I want to say but also secretly hiding things.” Not anymore. Great songwriting is about creating a strong connection with listeners. Songwriters are blessed with an ability to express themselves. The best will pour real feelings and conviction into their songs. On LIFE LOVE FLESH BLOOD, Imelda May does just that. Her writing is very open and personal. She reveals her vulnerabilities with extreme honesty and perfectly captures her raw emotions – pain, heartbreak, doubt, anger, fear, love, regret – universal topics people everywhere can relate to. This added maturity as a writer has elevated her songs to a much higher level.

Without a doubt, my favorite standout track is the heartfelt “Should’ve Been You.” Every time I replay the song, which has been almost non-stop, I think to myself: WOW! WOW! WOW! Just give her the Grammy for ‘Best Female Vocal Performance’ now. And why is this record not rocketing up the Billboard Charts?! Starting out, May’s singing of the verses surprisingly reminds me a bit of Chrissie Hynde but soon changes to all Imelda. When she belts out the bridge, you cannot help but recognize and become a part of the overwhelming emotion. An absolute ‘tears-in-your-eyes’ and ‘goosebumps’ performance. And I’m Angry/And I’m Sad/ I’m the best thing that you ever had . . ./ is sung with such beautiful intensity, it is as if May is delivering the lines not only as a cathartic release for herself but as a channel for every person who has ever been angry, sad or suffered from a broken-heart. Kudos to producer T. Bone Burnett for a brilliant recording.
What makes May so special is how she can repeatedly and consistently transfer the same powerful emotions into live performances of the song.

It’s fun when an artist or band feels like your own little secret. Songwriters that have had the biggest impact on me personally, for some reason, never quite get ‘over the top’ in terms of the commercial success they really deserve. Paul Westerberg, The Replacements, Ani DiFranco, Tom Waits – respected artists with a dedicated, almost cult-like following. Sometimes I jokingly think I have cursed them by being a fan (this comes from being a Cleveland sports fan). I include Imelda May in this group. But with her revamped image and making the “Record of Her Life”, I strongly sense the secret is rightly slipping away. I fully hope and predict her fan-base will broaden immensely. If there is any musical justice, her incredible voice will become well-known and make Imelda a house-hold name like Adele.

For now though, I am forgetting about appearances, Billboard charts, worldwide commercial success, comparing artists, and simply enjoying a record that represents everything music and songwriting, and most of all, a person is supposed to be.

And if she isn’t handed a Grammy next January in New York City, someone please tell Imelda May I am sorry, somehow it’s probably my fault. Wake up America!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s