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Album Review

Imelda May : “Mayhem’’

By James Reed
Globe Staff / July 19, 2011

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Imelda May is a woman out of time. So much so that the feisty Irish singer’s greatest challenge has been convincing audiences she’s a contemporary artist and not just a revivalist. Everything about May, from her upswept ’50s hairdo to a musical palette fixated on old rockabilly and blues, has suggested the 37-year-old is stuck in the past. Even her first big break on a global stage was retro-minded: a tribute to Les Paul and Mary Ford at last year’s Grammy ceremony alongside Jeff Beck, who has since taken May on the road. But on “Mayhem,’’ her third album, May proves bygone eras are merely sources of inspiration for her spirited take on American music. A few songs (“Psycho,’’ a knockabout cover of “Tainted Love’’) sound like genre exercises, but even then they’re salvaged by May’s fierce investment. “Mayhem’’ is more memorable for its surprises, including “Kentish Town Waltz,’’ a sweeping love song in the ballad tradition. Meanwhile, May is as coquettish and smoldering as Julie London on “All for You’’ and the devastating “Too Sad to Cry.’’ (Out today) ESSENTIAL “Sneaky Freak’’

Imelda May performs at Brighton Music Hall July 30.