Sunday, October 11, 2015

Robert Palmer - 1974 "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley"

Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley is Robert Palmer's debut solo album, released in 1974. It was his first effort after three album releases co-fronting the band Vinegar Joe.
Palmer is backed by The Meters and Lowell George of Little Feat. Multiple reviewers have commented that Palmer sang confidently on this album, despite being backed by more accomplished musicians such as Lowell George, Art Neville and New Orleans singer-songwriter Allen Toussaint.
Recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana, New York, and Compass Point Studios in Nassau, the album was released on compact disc in 1987 by Wea manufacturing.
The album peaked at No. 107 in the US according to the Billboard 200 chart.
The title track is used on the video game, Driver: San Francisco, and is frequently performed by the jam band Phish.

Before becoming a slick, sharp-dressed pop star in the 1980s, Robert Palmer was a soul singer deeply rooted in R&B and funk. Those influences are on full display on his debut album Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley. With a backing band including members of Little Feat and the Meters, the music has a laid-back groove whether Palmer's covering New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint (the title track) or singing originals ("Hey Julia," " Get Outside"). While the music is tight and solid, it is Robert Palmer's voice that is revelatory -- he sounds supremely confident among these talented musicians, and they seem to feed off his vocal intensity. Fans of the Meters or people who want to discover the funky side of Robert Palmer should check this one out. 

Robert Palmer (who is mentioned in the lyrics to “Tube”) had more than fifteen albums of his own, plus two more with The Power Station. The ninth brought him MTV fame, accompanied by iconic videos such as for “Addicted to Love.” But it was his first album in 1974, with the hit title track "Sneakin' Sally through the Alley" (as well as one other Toussaint tune), that brought him radio fame (and celebrity more generally) years earlier.
Written by later Feat member Allen Toussaint, it was originally recorded by Lee Dorsey for his Yes We Can album four years earlier, produced by Toussaint and with The Meters backing Dorsey, packaged it in a funky six-song suite buffered by title tracks. (Dorsey also released Toussaint's "On Your Way Down", five years after Feat did, on his 1978 Night People.)

Long before he became the sharp-dressed star of a series of sleek MTV-era videos, Robert Palmer was an R&B savant. Paired on his solo debut with a clutch of bonafide soul stars, he completely held his own.

In fact, ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley’ — released in September 1974 on Island — features a who’s who of the funky and the famous. Included were three members of Little Feat; three members of the Meters; everyone from the group Stuff, which was led by Cornell Dupree and Bernard Purdie; and strings svengali Gene Page, a Barry White collaborator. They surrounded a singer barely out of his teens who was best known, at least back in his native UK, for work with a far less interesting blues-rock outfit called Vinegar Joe.

“Here was this white English kid coming to New Orleans and New York to work with bands I had only heard on vinyl,” the late Palmer told the Daily News back in 1996. “I first knew Stuff when they were called the Encyclopedia Of Soul, the seminal New York rhythm and blues band. They had been on loads of records and still had that raw edge. So, I jumped in the deep end and asked if they would be up for some sessions. They didn’t know me from Adam — and, at first, they wouldn’t even say hello. But eight bars into the first tune, Purdie turned around and said, ‘Sir, excuse me, what did you say your name was?’ From then on, it was great.”

He arrived with some rough sketches, but most of ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley’ was developed on the spot, as Palmer — to his credit — took advantage of the collective knowledge in the room. These loose sessions even found Palmer improvising vocally, in direct contrast to his buttoned-down ’80s image.

Still, as off-handed as it all sounds, this was just the way the young Palmer had planned it. “My ideas were carried through from start to finish, and the spontaneity, came from employing the right people to play,” Palmer told the Lowell Sun in 1976. “I heard them playing the songs that I wrote not physically, but in my head. I thought, ‘He’d be great doing this, and he’d be great doing that.’ I didn’t have to ask them to play a certain way, they just did it naturally.”

Sometimes, as with ‘Through It All, There’s You’ — the closing track on ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley’ — that meant stretching a song well past 12 minutes. “There was no reason to stop,” Palmer told the Daily News. “We were just cueing the sections by numbers, which is how they do it in New Orleans. You know, ‘Go to the three section!’ You’d just keep going until somebody woke up, basically.”

Track listing

All songs by Robert Palmer except where noted.

    "Sailing Shoes" (Lowell George) – 2:44
    "Hey Julia" – 2:24
    "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley" (Allen Toussaint) – 4:21
    "Get Outside" – 4:32
    "Blackmail" (Robert Palmer, Lowell George) – 2:32
    "How Much Fun" – 3:02
    "From a Whisper to a Scream" (Allen Toussaint) – 3:32
    "Through It All There's You" – 12:17

Personnel

Tracks 1, 6, & 7 – The Meters

    Art Neville – keyboards
    Leo Nocentelli – guitar
    George Porter, Jr. – bass
    Joseph Modeliste – drums

Track 3 – The Meters, Simon Phillips and Lowell George

    Art Neville – keyboards
    Leo Nocentelli – guitar
    George Porter, Jr. – bass
    Simon Phillips – drums
    Lowell George – slide guitar

Tracks 4, 5, & 8 is the New York rhythm section

    Cornell Dupree – guitar
    Richard Tee – piano
    Gordon Edwards – bass
    Bernard Purdie – drums

    Jim Mullen – guitar on track 2
    Jody Linscott – percussion on track 2
    Steve York – harmonica solo on track 3
    Lowell George – guitar on 1, 3, 4, 6, & 7
    Steve Winwood – piano on 8

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