Wednesday, 12 March 2014

“Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” and “Pressure Drop” by ROBERT PALMER [feat LITTLE FEAT & THE METERS] (2013 Edsel 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Gotta Work To Make It Work…"

After stints with THE ALAN BOWN in the Sixties, DADA in 1970 and three albums with VINEGAR JOE (featuring Elkie Brooks) between 1972 and 1973 – ROBERT PALMER was finally ready to go Solo. The result was his fabulous debut "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" in 1974 on Island Records and its under-appreciated follow-up "Pressure Drop" in 1976. This 2CD reissue on Demon's Edsel label celebrates both records with real style (even throwing in 6 Bonus cuts which all new to CD - 4 Previously Unreleased).

UK released 26 August 2013 - "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley/Pressure Drop" by ROBERT PALMER on Edsel EDSK 7037 (Barcode 740155703738) is a 2CD set in a Card Slipcase with Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (52:24 minutes)
1. Sailin’ Shoes
2. Hey Julia
3. Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley
4. Get Outside
5. Blackmail
6. How Much Fun
7. From A Whisper To A Scream
8. Through it All There’s You
Tracks 1 to 8 are his debut Solo LP “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” – UK released September 1974 on Island ILPS 9294

Tracks 9 to 12 are BONUS TRACKS:
9. Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley (Single Mix) – non-album version released November 1974 as a US-Only 7” single on Island 006
10. Epidemic - Non-Album B-side to 9 - “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley”
11. Blackmail (Alternate Mix) – Previously Unreleased
12. Get Outside (Alternate Mix) – Previously Unreleased

Disc 2 (43:56 minutes):
1. Give Me An Inch
2. Work To Make It Work
3. Back In My Arms
4. River Boat
5. Pressure Drop
6. Here With You Tonight
7. Trouble
8. Fine Time
9. Which Of Us Is The Fool
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 2nd Solo LP “Pressure Drop” – UK released April 1976 on Island ILPS 9372
Tracks 10 and 11 are BONUS TRACKS – “Willin’ (Demo)” and “Hope We Never Wake (Demo)” – Previously Unreleased

The outer card wrap is generic to all these Edsel reissues and certainly gives the whole thing a classy feel. Fans will also know that outside of the “Gold” anthology on Universal – Palmer’s Island catalogue has been languishing without remasters for decades. Although it doesn’t say who remastered these album at Universal – the sound quality is great – a huge improvement over the dull Eighties discs we’d had for years. The 28-page booklet is substantial – pictures of the albums and rare singles, studio shots, colour publicity stuff, lyrics to both albums, affectionate and knowledgeable liner notes by CHRIS JONES – it’s a bang-up job done.  

Fans will know that the original UK vinyl album has barely decipherable credits on the top left of the rear cover that give no real recording info and there was no inner sleeve (the standard issue blue inner bag). I say this because recording history now shows that members of LITTLE FEAT (Lowell George, Bill Payne and Paul Barrere) and much of THE METERS (Art Neville, Leon Noncentelli, Ziggy Modelisti and George Porter Jr.) filled out the sessions with Funky-Rock magic.

As if that isn’t amazing enough – there’s Jazz-Funk main men RICHARD TEE on Keyboards with CORNELL DUPREE on Guitar, the legendary sessionman BERNARD PURDIE on Drums (Steely Dan and millions of others) and even STEVE WINWOOD on keyboards. He also took the Bassist STEVE YORK from Dada and Vinegar Joe with him and Steve provides some amazing backbeat and Harmonica Solos throughout. None of this was on the artwork! Perhaps had that info been displayed – it might have sold better – or made more of an impact…

The debut opens with the distinctive guitar of Lowell George on a boogie cover of his own “Sailin’ Shoes” followed by Palmer getting funky with his beat box on “Hey Julia” (an RP original). A slice of magic occurs with Allen Toussaint’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” – all the staggering funk of the musicians collides to produce a mean shuffler. There’s some hiss for sure on the slinky “Get Outside” (another Palmer original) but the remaster still allows the amazing Bass and Rhythm breathe like never before –it’s fantastic (the lady vocals are still uncredited).

“Blackmail” is an upbeat co-write with Lowell George (good rather than great) while “How Much Fun” goes as fully Little Feat as possible – stabbing keyboards, backing girl vocals, lingering slide guitar notes – it’s very cool. There then follows the album’s double masterpiece finishers – the incredible “From A Whisper To A Scream” (more Allen Toussaint New Orleans old-skool coolness) and the twelve and half minute Palmer original “Through It All There’s You”. It’s the kind of slow building funky Rock tune that always brings customers to the counter – Winwood on the Fender Rhodes with Cornell Dupree flicking those licks throughout. It has an infectious vocal too – truly brilliant stuff.

Fans of both Palmer and Little Feat will thrill to the two debut LP outtakes – “Blackmail” features Lowell and the band giving it some melodic magic – it’s just superb. “Get Outside” is a slow bluesy take instead of the funkier album final – and again – great guitar and a very pronounced lady vocal.

After the heavy dependence on covers on the debut – album number 2 “Pressure Drop” features six Palmer originals with “Trouble” being another Little Feat Cover, the title track a take on the famous Toots & The Maytals reggae anthem and “River Boat” a return to one of his faves – Allen Toussaint. The opener “Give Me An Inch” would later be covered by Ian Matthews to stunning groovy effect on his underrated and soulful “Stealing Home” album from 1979. There then follows a huge favourite of mine – the groovy “Work To Make It Work” (lyrics above). For 1976 it seemed to somehow predate so much Funk-Rock that followed in a similar vein in the late Seventies. Things get a bit too syrupy with the stringed-up “Back In My Arms” while “River Boat” returns to that New Orleans choppy feel and is far better.

The album’s second real gem is “Here With you Tonight” sounding like Little Feat with The Tower Of Power horns blasting in the background with an impassioned Palmer vocal out front. What a winner.

Again – Little Feat fans will flip for the simple acoustic demo of George’s gorgeous “Willin’” – even as a basic demo recording – its lovely and intimate.
“Hope We Wake Up” is similar – a simple acoustic demo – where he stops and starts as he works out the melody – it’s lovely too.

I’ve always thought Robert Palmer was a class act – not just as singer – but also as a vessel for other people’s songs. Sure it’s not all genius – but there’s a lot of quality Seventies Funk-Rock on offer here for not a lot of dollar bills.

Get this fabulous double-CD in your life and you’ll find yourself sneakin’ those other titles into your shopping basket too…

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