It sounds like a fire is burning in the belly of Irish R&B-rockabilly singer Imelda May as she growls through barnstormers on her fourth release, “Tribal,” an album she’s been threatening to make since her 2003 debut, “No Turning Back.”
There indeed was a spark flickering: her daughter Violet, now nearly 2, who had mom’s hormones going haywire both before and after her birth. Along with “Tribal’s” ferocious “Wild Woman,” “Hellfire Club” and “It’s Good to Be Alive, even the lullaby “Little Pixie” — based on a poem her brother wrote for the newborn — has extra oomph.
“I wrote the melody on my ukulele, a pure Gene Vincent/Cliff Gallup kind of thing,” says May, who appears at Outside Lands on Sunday.
Given that May’s husband is band guitarist Darrel Higham, Violet (already being decked out in 1950s-chic leopard-print) accompanies her Dublin-based parents everywhere.
“We’re like a circus, this gypsy family,” May says. “We’ve been to Paris a lot, so she really likes France, and Spain, too. And she even speaks a little French and Spanish, like hello, goodbye and thank you. And apart from when I’m gigging, Violet is always under my arm.”
That’s the way women in country music historically handled having children, adds May, who turns 40 on Sunday: “They put their baby under their arm and went for it.”
She toured eight months into her pregnancy, went home for last-minute maternity leave, then started composing “Tribal” in earnest five months later.
“I decided to write like crazy, mainly when Violet would take a nap,” she says. “And I thought, ‘Will I eat? Will I have a nap myself, or a relaxing bath? No! I’ll write an entire album!’”
That may be the reason for volatile “Tribal” tracks like “Round the Bend,” a tongue-in-cheek, diesel-fueled rundown of her significant other’s faults: little tics that can drive a gal crazy when she’s housebound with an infant.
“I mean, you still love your spouse, but there are certain things where it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. If you do that one more time!’ When you first get together, you think, ‘Oh, that’s cute — the way they bite their nails.’ But after six years of it, you’re about to explode!’”
May just cut a wildcat version of Elton John’s “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock and Roll)” for his recent 40th-anniversary reissue of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Now the two exchange baby pictures.
“My child is my priority No. 1 at all times,” May says. “But I won’t be turning into some big bowl of mush any time soon. I still love to rock out.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Outside Lands, Golden Gate Park, Lands End Stage
When: 12:30 to 1:20 p.m. Sunday