July 2021: Rock Record Reviews

Imelda May: 11 Past the Hour
Decca/UMO (16/44.1 stream, Qobuz). 2021. Cam Blackwood et al., prods., Dan Moyler, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ***½

11 Past the Hour breaks a four-year studio hiatus for Irish singer-songwriter Imelda May. Her 2017 album Life Love Flesh Blood was notable for moving into ballads and away from her earlier debt to rockabilly; this new venture shows off her husky voice's bluesy shades.

May has an ear for collaboration, as she demonstrates doubly on the Southern rock–inspired "Just One Kiss." Noel Gallagher, lead vocalist from Oasis, holds his own in a spirited duet, while Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood contributes a grinding backing line and a couple of searing solos. Miles Kane sings on "What We Did in the Dark," bringing in a heavier element that emphasizes May's vocal flexibility and emotional power.

Evoking tough female rockers like Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde, May growls the hard-edged verses of "Made to Love," although its soaring chorus, just this side of sentimentality, owes more to Sheryl Crow. The lyrics about human equality were inspired by Nigerian activist Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, who sings backup.

Thanks to its poetic language and the satisfying surprises in its chord progressions, "Solace" rises above a standard love song. Sam Lewis's reverberating guitar line fleshes out an interesting texture. Waltz-metered "Don't Let Me Stand on My Own" is more harmonically conventional, but the pleasing, clear tenor of fellow songwriter Niall McNamee works ideally with May's breathy vocal arcs.

May saves the best for last, compositionally and sonically. "Never Look Back" revels in layers of strings, arranged by co-composer Davide Rossi, and Alex Turner's percussion, against a single-note melody driven forward by syncopation.—Anne E. Johnson

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