Ireland’s Imelda May made waves with her 2011 album Mayhem, which was well received by both critics and listeners. The follow-up release More Mayhem provides more of the same: a well-produced, solidly performed mix of rockabilly, garage rock, surf guitar licks, sultry torch songs and whatever else that gets pulled into May’s considerable gravitational well. May has a powerful voice capable of anything from breathy nuance to full-out hollering, though her default setting is a kind of saucy, sassy sultriness. With a capable band backing her up, May rips through a double-length set of varied tunes—21 in all, including a trio of remixes—in a romp that is fun and satisfying, but ultimately exhausting.
Before exhaustion sets in, however, there is plenty of energy on display and much to enjoy, starting with the uptempo opener “Pulling the Rug”. Standouts are plentiful, from the quietly devotional “Proud and Humble”, with its loping, irresistible rhythm, to the linguistic cleverness of “Inside Out”. May’s sauciness is fully evident on that tune, as she enumerates her favorite parts of her lover’s body both internal and external. Meanwhile, on “All For You” she croons that “Every hook, every clip, every twitch of the zip—yeah it’s all for you.” It’s easy to overdo the smoldering sexy thing, but May never overplays her hand, and the results are effective.
Vocals are front and center on most tracks, but the band does step up at times. Although instrumental solos are few, the band is tight throughout, due at least in part to the deft guitar playing of May’s husband Darrel Higham. The band maintains its impressive tightness on such tracks as the title song and the toe-tapping, booty-shaking “Johnny Got a Boom-Boom”—which would be an effective album closer if not for the six (!) subsequent bonus tracks. Multi-instrumentalist Dave Priseman lends atmospheric trumpet flourishes on several tunes including “All For You”, in which his muted horn acts as a kind of late-night-smoky-bar wah-wah effect.
Despite this neverending intensity, or maybe because of it, listener fatigue begins to set in at about the halfway mark. It seems ungracious to criticize a record for having too many songs, especially when the majority of them clock in at under three minutes. But frankly, 21 songs is quite a slog, and the album would have been improved with the shaving of four or five of them. “Eternity” and “Sneaky Freak” both come to mind as generic rockabilly tunes that fail to stand out from the pack; “Kentish Town Waltz” ptovides a downtempo change of pace but never really ignites. Among the bonus tracks, May’s cover of “Walking After Midnight”, though probably fun in concert, is forgettable compared both to Patsy Cine’s original and to more innovative renditions, such as that of the Cowboy Junkies. Her spirited rendition Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is much more fun.
These are perhaps minor complaints, but it’s enough to prevent this very good record from being a knockout. May has a heck of a voice and energy to spare, and one day she’ll put together an album that serves to showcase her considerable talents without feeling like an endurance test. When that happens, look out.
// Notes from the Road
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