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Album Review

For lack of a better word, Drive might be termed Robert Palmer's blues album. Some of the songs are in the strict blues form, and the approach to the arrangements tends toward spare, acoustic elements. In his liner notes, Palmer cites as inspirations an invitation to participate in a Robert Johnson tribute album and the offer to provide the soundtrack to a film set in the deep South in the 1940s and '50s. But, of course, it's not that simple. Spare the arrangements may be, but they are also precise, especially in terms of the rhythms, in a way their models never were. Palmer is a stickler for grooves, and these tracks are carefully edited so that you never really imagine you're in a juke joint. The material ranges from J.B. Lenoir's "Mama Talk to Your Daughter" and Little Willie John's "I Need Your Love So Bad" to more recent fare such as ZZ Top's "TV Dinners" and neo-bluesman Keb' Mo's "Am I Wrong?" Palmer's throaty voice and his urgent delivery are well-suited to the songs, and his usual taste for the Caribbean lightens things up just when the collection is beginning to seem harsh. The version of "Hound Dog," not surprisingly, owes more to Big Mama Thornton than it does to Elvis Presley (Palmer gets the lyrics right, which Presley never did). This is the blues filtered through a highly sophisticated sensibility, and thus rendered as an artifact, however fervently Palmer sings. But then, that filter is what he's been applying to indigenous musical genres for his entire career, and there is much here to remind listeners of his fondly remembered early albums.


Born: 19 January 1949 in Batley, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

The career of blue-eyed soul singer Robert Palmer was a study in style versus substance. While the performer's earliest work won praise for its skillful assimilation of rock, R&B, and reggae sounds, his records typically sold poorly, and he achieved his greatest notoriety as an impeccably dressed lounge lizard. By the mid-'80s, however, Palmer became a star, although his popularity owed less to the strength of his material than to his infamous music videos: taking their cue from the singer's suave...
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