Archive for the ‘2017’ Category

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!

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A favorite book I recently read is CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL SONGWRITER by Shelly Peiken. Shelly is a songwriter based in Los Angeles and has been writing professionally for over 30 years. Her songs have been recorded by a slew of successful artists and include top hits “What a Girl Wants” by Christina Aguilera and the Meredith Brooks’ Grammy-nominated song “Bitch” (1998). In the book, Shelley openly, and often hilariously, shares her perspective and experiences of how professional songwriting in the music industry has changed over the past few decades. Songs being written by one songwriter or a co-writing team have evolved into the common practice of inviting a roster of songwriters into the recording studio, having everyone present their ideas and only the best ideas are picked and used. Sometimes a songwriter will contribute only one line to song which clearly explains how some of today’s top charting songs have numerous writers credited to a finished track (sometimes over 10!.)

Growing up a fan and songwriting disciple of great writers like Bob Mould, Paul Westerberg, Tom Waits, Noel Gallagher, Linda Perry, Liz Phair, Robert Pollard, Adam Duritz and countless others, this new approach does seem to border on ruining the craft of songwriting. But I personally would never dislike a song for the sole reason of too many songwriters being involved in its creation. Now I admit I am guilty of how I have perceived some of the new popular artists – simply lumping them all together as radio-friendly musical acts who record songs formulated by ‘songwriting committees’ – excellent singers and performers but not ‘real’ songwriters. I can also admit when I am wrong. A few weeks ago I fell asleep watching Saturday Night Live and for the fifth time in my life was undeniably awakened by an incredible song playing live on TV (yes, sometimes great songs find me). The job of great songwriters is relate to and move people in a unique way through storied lyrics, memorable music, hooks and melodies. On the song “Castle On The Hill”, Ed Sheeran absolutely nails it. Sheeran co-wrote the track with Benjamin Levin (aka Benny Blanco), who has written top songs for Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Gwen Stefani and many others. The end result of achieving a great song is what matters most to me. Here’s proof that this modern-day formula of teaming talented people together to write meaningful music can work just fine.

Ed Sheeran – Castle on the Hill (Live at SNL 2/11/2017) from Niel Oliva on Vimeo.