Album Review of Richard Palmer-James: Takeaway (Primary Purpose Records)
Musician Richard Palmer-James may not be that proverbial “household name” one thinks of in recording artist circles, but he has quite a colorful pedigree. He was a founding member of Supertramp and probably had some of his greatest international success as a lyricist working with British band King Crimson on three of their key albums. The singer-songwriter collaborated with long-time associate bassist John Wetton on the King Crimson releases Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red.
According to Palmer-James himself, “ Having spent the last few decades writing words for other people to sing, and thus being obliged to comply with the ambitions and sensibilities of others, I wanted to present a collection of songs that are uncompromisingly my own.” And on his latest solo effort Takeaway, that’s exactly what he’s done. Armed with his trusty arsenal of guitars, mandolin, and words, Palmer-James gets back to his roots. Vivid storytelling draped in flourishes of blues and folk-oriented rock is the order of the day. This is music for grown-ups; sophisticated, yet never snobby or pretentious.
Takeaway is a collection of songs that seem very cinematic and stand alone as little “movies” in and of themselves. The lead track “Aerodrome” depicts a dichotomy of past wartime versus modern time where an aircraft hangar, which once housed fighter planes, now serves as a venue for trance or rave parties. In it Palmer-James sings, “Sad to say the world we knew went down in flames… you’ll understand it’s hard to understand your fun and games.” In two lines he summarizes a generational divide to a T. The next tune, “A Very Bad Girl,” is a rousing blues-tinged rocker with a wry and clever lyrical twist. Here he takes the position of initially criticizing this “bad” girl’s behavior but actually has more in common with her than first realized. There are also songs like “Dance for Me” which, on the surface, seems like an innocuous folk song about cutting loose but appears to have a deeper side that deals with persevering in the face of adversity.
Palmer-James is joined on this album by a crack unit of, primarily, German musicians from Munich, where the British singer-songwriter has resided for many years. Co-producer Evert van der Wal does a great job of capturing his mellow honey-dripped tenor voice to perfection. As a result, his vocals add a tinge of vulnerability and world-weariness to many of the subjects in his songs. It’s a performance style he’s obviously crafted after years of singing in pubs, taverns, and intimate spaces. And, perhaps, that is exactly Richard Palmer-James’ appeal, that you will listen to his words and delivery and feel like you’re connecting and sharing a drink with a very dear friend.