Imelda May


Imelda May, the 37-year-old Irish singer who made a memorable Grammy Awards appearance with guitar great Jeff Beck when they performed the Les Paul and Mary Ford classic “How High The Moon” in 2010, casts her ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly inspirations into Mayhem. Her second full-length album, it’s a mostly psychobilly rave-up.

Applying her characteristically sultry alto to “Psycho,” a surf rock-style song about a crazy boyfriend, May shows that she deserves a place alongside such like-minded predecessors as the Cramps and Southern Culture On The Skids.

Another rockabilly revival predecessor, Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats, comes to mind with the CD’s similarly upbeat and crazy title track, “Mayhem.”

May and her band, including her guitarist husband, Darrel Higham, kick the tempo high with the driving train beat and wild guitar ride in “Sneaky Freak.”

The versatile group moves to a country-folk style for “Proud and Humble.” “Inside Out” echoes early 20th century jazz of the kind made in New Orleans. “Kentish Town Waltz” is, just as its title suggests, a graceful love song.

May composed many of Mayhem’s songs, most of which are more than good. She’s also a great interpreter. Her only interpretation here, however, is “Tainted Love,” originally recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964 and later by ‘80s band Soft Cell. Another remake or two amidst Mayhem would have been welcomed.

John Wirt

Dr. Michael White


One of the leading lights in traditional New Orleans jazz, Dr. Michael White nevertheless is not bound by tradition. His 10th recording project, Adventures In New Orleans Jazz, lives up to its title.

White and his New Orleans musicians and vocalists include one of their city’s standards, “Basin Street Blues,” in Adventures but they more often put distinctive spins on songs by such non-traditional jazz artists as Bob Marley, Paul Simon and Miriam Makeba. Adventures also engages in delightful cross-cultural explorations, including musical sojourns to South Africa, West Africa and Haiti.

“South African Medley: Pata Pata/The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” featuring White’s clarinet, trumpeter Dwayne Burns, Harry Connick Jr. collaborator Lucien Barbarin playing trombone and Detroit Brooks’ banjo work, gets a joyful treatment via one of the album’s larger ensemble arrangements. And White, Barbarin and trumpeter Wendell Brunious add New Orleans flavor to Bob Marley’s “One Love.”

Echoing New Orleans’ jazz funeral tradition, a six-member ensemble interprets Paul Simon’s beautiful “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” with both lyrical grace and Latin-tinged verve. White’s one-man rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” is overly spare, but he and his session players usually engage in genuinely adventurous, New Orleans-steeped music making.

John Wirt

Tim Robbins And The Rogues Gallery Band


Yes, this is the Oscar-winning actor. According to his press bio, however, Tim Robbins has been singing and writing all his life. He’s just kept it under the radar - until now. The seasoning strategy seems to have paid off. The 52-year-old sounds ready for his musical close-up.

Rogues Gallery may evoke the image of a band of rowdies. Indeed, “Time to Kill” is a stinging blues-rocker, and the accordion-laced “You’re My Dare” would sound right at home as a sing-along in an Irish bar. For the most part, however, Robbins and producer Hal Willner keep things more subdued and atmospheric. That fits the folkish narrative bent of Robbins’ songs and where he is best as a singer - low-key and conversational, reminiscent of folk-bluesman Chris Smither (or Lou Reed - “Book of Josie” has a “Walk on the Wild Side” vibe).

Robbins at times flirts with the ponderous and pretentious. In most cases, however, from the yearning “Dreams” to the harrowing “Time to Kill,” he doesn’t come close to that line.

Nick Cristiano

The Philadelphia Inquirer