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Imelda May is more than a rockabilly filly

Paradise, Boston, July 31, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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If you took a look and listen to Imelda May, you'd think the Irish singer was pretty much one of those rockabilly fillies. Her black hair has a thicket of blonde in the middle, which curled up. And while she was not outfitted in a dress and tattoos (if she has them, you couldn't see them), she seemed quite at home with rockabilly.

In fact, she sure sounded that way as she started off with "Tribal," the title track from her next disc dropping in September. The song is marked by May's upfront, somewhat sassy vocals and very retro sounding guitar licks courtesy of the always excellent Darrel Higham. May quickly followed that up with "Wild Woman," appropriate for the older crowd with a sizable chunk of heavily tattooed woman who have the filly look.

But initial sounds were deceiving because rockabilly music was only one of the styles emanating from May and her very find backing band.

May kept it bright with the bouncy jaunt of "It's Good to Be Alive" where she settled into a good, country groove. That was one of several songs that veered country.

May also knew how to rock out more, while always being tuneful. A punky element ("Round the Bend") crept several songs as well. And she also took it way down, coming off as a bit of a torch singer ("Gypsy in Me") where her vocals stood out in a song where she poured her heart into it.

This was not to say that May was all over the place musically and, therefore, lacked any sort of identity. Far from it in a show that had a strong core - namely May, a very pleasant sort.

She's a strong singer, not overwhelming, but clearly adept at the various styles she dispensed. There was one more while she was at it, encoring with Blondie's "Dreamin" as the first of the three-song encore. The song offered yet another change as she sat down with her upright bassist Al Gare trading that in for ukulele. Definitely a different version, but very well presented.

In fact, the changes worked to May's advantage. The fact of the matter was that while she was a bit of a musical chameleon, the changes in style and tempo also suited the show well in avoiding the same old, same old factor. Higham, who happens to be May's husband, typically was understated throughout, while infusing the song with requisite sharp notes.

The emphasis was on "Tribal," as May played three-quarters of the dozen songs before concluding the regular set with "Mayhem" and "Johnny Got a Boom Boom." In fact, May ended the night with "Right Amount of Wrong" from "Tribal." The song was squarely in the rockabilly world, giving just about the right amount of naughtiness with her snarling vocals.