|GEMS, Volume One - Sue Palmer|
There is a mad stride boogie mania of the opening track “Down the Road a Piece,” with Palmer’s left hand maintaining a rock steady baseline on the keyboard, and the right hand irresistibly trilling, riffing, and gliding along over the changes. Simple and elegant, against a backbeat of drums and bass that will not let up until Ms. Palmer says it is. Johnny Viau takes a fine honking saxophone solo, growing, wailing, gruff in all the right ways. What makes Gems so engaging is that the tracks and styles catch you by surprise as they play through; more than a revivalist, more than curator, Palmer, and her bandmates are practitioners of the diversity of the blues, swing, and boogie traditions, and will, at times, throw you a left curve that delights gloriously. In this case, it’s the rousing gospel of “I’ve Been Walking,” with a soul-stirring vocal by the irrepressible Missy Anderson, a pumped-up band creating waves, a solid rhythm and fleet beat for Palmer’s thick, rich chord work and percussive phrasing.
Blues, boogie, and swing, the core of Palmer’s musical soul, are a music often associated with the woes of the road, with hard traveling and the search for a place to rest, if only brief. Perhaps coincidentally, two very fine tracks involve hospitality, hotel, and motel, first with a sly rendition of the chestnut “Heartbreak Hotel.” Skewing closer to the Big Mama Thorton original than the classic Presley version, the song combines the laconic fatalism of a good country ballad and the mournful minimalism of the most despairing, dead-end blues. A bit later, we drive past the track “Motel Mambo,” a lament, a confession, a tell-all in lithe mambo syncopation. Deejha Marie’s sexy, casually jaded vocal outlines the characters and their storied comings and goings. Gilbert Castellanos takes a scintillating trumpet break, fast tonguing and rattling trills that give this song a short and inspired moment of scorch, taking full advantage of Palmer’s rattling piano work. All told, Gems, Volume One is a 20-course meal, the work of a fine musician dedicated to the genius of the blues. Blues, swing, blues, country, gospel, it’s all here, a diverting collection of what Sue Palmer considers her best work since 1980.
This was originally published in the San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission