Usher Hall, Edinburgh ***
Taken from her recent fifth album Life Love Flesh Blood, this lonely electric waltz – which features Jeff Beck on record, firmly aligning Dubliner May with the classic rock canon – is the starkest evidence that she’s in a breakup record phase.
When she announced her split from Darrel Higham in 2015, May didn’t just break up with a partner but with her guitarist and songwriting collaborator as well. In the two years since, she’s undergone a complete reinvention – not least in terms of her image, which has changed from a bright, trademark rockabilly look to the sculpted black hair and dress of a jazz chanteuse.
The new music also manages to conjure the reflective sobriety of a relationship’s aftermath without resorting to demure pining; there were a couple of classic breakup songs here, including Should’ve Been You’s breezy waving away of regret and Leave Me Lonely’s yearning sense of sexual awakening.
Where Higham does appear to be missed, however, is in the songwriting and arrangement.
May is a fierce performer with a voice which is by turns seductive and righteous, moving from jazz bar smoothness with a heart-swelling confidence reminiscent of Chrissie Hynde, yet even the best of her new music doesn’t quite capture the invigorating, salacious novelty of key hits like Big Bad Handsome Man and Johnny Got a Boom Boom. Where these were the songs which had people dancing, however, a cover of the Shangri-Las’ Remember (Walking in the Sand) pointed to the musical ambition which will only serve her well in future.