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Imelda May’s Best Yet


Imelda May 11 PAST THE HOUR. Decca

11 PAST THE HOUR is my truth. I always write with meaning and from my heart as that’s the reason I write, to connect with my own story at each particular moment and I hope therefore I connect with others during theirs. I’d like to think I can put into words and music what we all feel sometimes. We all laugh, sing, love, cry, dance, kiss, care. We all experience lust, anger, joy, worry, sorrow and hope. Sometimes we stay silent and hold it all in and sometimes we dance and throw it all to the wind with abandon, but one thing is for sure is we are in this life together. Each song is a moment in my life. Each life is a moment in time. Every minute counts.” - Imelda May




The version I’ve reviewed is the 2CD hardback book including the records 11 PAST THE HOUR and SLIP OF THE TONGUE in 50 pages co-designed by Imelda featuring lyrics, poems, personal photographs, sketches and precious items from her home.

Three years ago Imelda May changed her 50s rockabilly look and expanded her musical palette for her album LIFE LOVE FLESH BLOOD. Her previous look and music were synonymous and for me frankly uninteresting. But how things changed. I was lucky enough to witness a stunning live performance with her band in Manchester where her looks and new music proved seductive and hugely entertaining. Now it’s the turn of her latest record to progress her position to one of Ireland’s greatest musical gems.

Now I’m not a fan of recording ‘collaborations’ so my immediate concern was triggered with performances that included Ronnie Wood, Miles Kane and Noel Callaghan. However they are subtle enough not to detract from what turned out to be a superb record. The title track opens proceedings in a style that reminded me of the best French romantic reflections. The opening is compelling with May slowly and clearly introducing lyrics that are simple and very effective: “‘Twas 11 past the hour/Darkness in the air/Lay down on wild flowers/The moonlight didn’t care/Give me your heart/I’ll hold it with mine/So you can feel free my love/Free for a while.” The instrumental arrangement is magical with gorgeous orchestrations and some telling guitar riffs around the middle-eight. A strong melody and expressive vocal performance complete an excellent album opening.

‘Breathe’ is next offers a darker, more melancholic feel and a symphonic rock sound that matches the song’s vibe. I also noticed that production values are some of the best I’ve heard in some time with May’s voice dominant with every word as clear as a bell as instruments remain strong but separated. It’s both epic and strong. ‘Made To Love’ is firmly down the harder rock route but with well-judged pop sensibility that renders it super-suited to wide radio coverage. Lyrically, it doesn’t mask its serious sentiments: “I’m Martin Luther/Lennon, Buddha/Marielle Franco/I’m Jupiter/I’m every refugee you see/I’m every ‘bum’ on every street/I’m gay, I’m straight/I’m bi, I’m trans/I’m woman, girl/I’m boy, I’m man/I’m Africa, I’m Pakistan/I’m Irish, Palestinian/I’m U.S.A., I’m you and me/I’m every person you meet/I am love...”

‘Different Kinds Of Love’ opens with May singing over an acoustic guitar before percussion enters and the song opens out with a strong melody, pleasant sighing backing vocals. The vocal style is conversational, the vocal quality superb and range wide. With epic choruses and hair-raising Gospel crescendo, the song’s another winner. Piano notes along with May’s solo vocal open ‘Diamonds’ that continues to impress with its soulful vibe, lovely lyrics and the strongest melody here.


The duet with Niall McNamee works beautifully on ‘Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own’ aided by a wonderful strings arrangement and ever-present acoustic guitar. There’s also truckloads of melody and catchy choruses. Lyrical standards are sustained: “No I don’t believe I’m an angel/But troubles pushed me to fall/Nor that you could’ve saved me from God/Or anything at all…” ‘What We Did In The Dark’ is a rollicking rock song that thunders along with Miles Kane alongside for a thrilling ride. ‘Can’t Say’ slows proceedings with a superb contemplative song, instruments removed to leave piano to take on dominant and beautiful duties. May’s voice is at its most expressive, emotional and sincere, backed by a lovely melody. It’s one of my favourite tracks here.

11 PAST THE HOUR is May’s best to-date. It’s diverse in pace and mood with a mix of musical styles. There’s also wonderful poetry here that underlines May’s skill as a song-writer. Production has succeeded in bringing out the best of the performances while revealing May’s great vocal qualities. Listening to the album I genuinely feel I’ve learnt a lot more about May and that’s largely because what you hear is deeply personal and sincere, and yet totally accessible. This is an excellent record which sits alongside a further CD of poetry to music housed in a superb quality book and interesting images. May has taken another step up the ladder with this record which will work on an international level. ESSENTIAL. And if you are itching to get out to witness music performed live after the long lockdown breaks, there’s no better way to restart than by booking seats to watch Imelda May live - shows listed overleaf.


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