Robert Palmer’s Lost Oeuvre Part I: Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley (1974)

To many people, Robert Palmer represents the power of MTV when music videos were in their heyday, a man whose sartorial talents were the great substance behind numbers like “Simply Irresistable” and “Addicted To Love”.  Both numbers are  products of their time and suffer greatly as a result, propelled by the videos of attractive women peddling instruments as sex machines and little else.  But that was before I discovered Robert Palmer, the same Robert Palmer whose fame was a product of the badly aged MTV generation, had a much more compelling career before ever making it big.  

One of the most amazing facts of stumbling upon his 1974 release Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley is the fact that this little known expat managed to lock down both The Meters and members of Little Feat, along with session greats like Cornell Dupree and Bernard Purdie to back him through an extraordinarily funky trip down NOLA inspired, hot-laced grooves. Palmer oozes charisma, and he makes clear right away that he is an excellent interpreter of other’s songs, feeling comfortable handling everything from Little Feat drug odes to Allen Toussaint R&B, mixing in his own songs with narry a change of pace.

Robert-palmer-sneakin-sally-thr-523003

The album begins with “The Trilogy”, the three song sequence of “Sailing Shoes”, “Hey Julia”, and “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley”. To say that this is the highlight of the album is both an understatement and an overstatement (because the album is so good overall). The groove utterly smokes, building to a crescendo in the midst of the title track.  

“Sailing Shoes” begins the album with some funky guitar and keyboard work, along with George Porter Jr. and Zig Modeliste of the Meters propelling the slow burn rhythm.  Palmer’s vocals twist and burn with intensity that is every bit Lowell George’s equal and the interplay between vocalist and band is tremendous, before they segue into the vocally driven “Hey Julia”.

 “Hey Julia” is a Palmer original, and despite being recorded in an entirely different studio with an entirely different band, the song is the glue between “Sailing” and “Sneakin’ ” complete with a funky bassline and marimba interplay (played by Palmer himself) along with some dissonant harmonies that just work. 

“Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” is an absolute must hear, and not just for the seamless transition back to the Meters and Lowell George backed band, but for the vocal workout that Palmer puts into this Toussaint cover.  Palmer completely owns this track, his vocal coaxes and growls propelling the band to stratospheric energy and dynamic interplay.  Anyone who is a fan of music should listen to this song, it’s one of the few things Phish did right in bringing attention to a whole new world of fans, but they will never match this groove.

After any song as phenominal as “Sneakin’ ” there’s bound to be a let down whether or not the song quality goes down, so “Get Outside” is maligned by trying to follow such a high energy song, despite its best intentions. “Outside” tries to take the album in a different direction, a slow interloping bass groove with some great piano flourishes and backing vocals.

“Blackmail” is the underlooked highlight on the album, a piece cowritten by Palmer and Lowell George, which has George’s lyrical fingerprints over it.  The NOLA horns is a nice touch, along with the barrelhouse piano, and its a complete change of pace from “Get Outside” in the best way, despite having a pretty much identical band lineup.

“How Much Fun” would forgive you if you thought it was Little Feat playing backing band to this Robert Palmer written number, but again it’s The Meters laying down the groove on this jovial, bouncing number that features a flagfolet of all things in its off beat groove. Another highlight among many on this album.

“From A Whisper To A Scream” returns Palmer and co. to an Allen Toussaint cover and the band really reigns it in here, the drumming is front and center and tight in the pocket, while Lowell George lays down some really nice fill work with his legendary slide sound picking up the rises and falls of the arrangement.

“Through It All There’s You” surprised me when I found out it was written by Palmer, a solid funk groove that stretches out for 12 minutes, featuring Palmer laying down his smoothest vocal on the whole album, along with laying down some rhythm guitar.  "Through It All" even features Steven Winwood assisting on the piano, but the groove that Bernard Purdie lays down on the drums deserves to be among the greatest funk grooves laid down in history.

Final Notes:

The album as a whole features great production with a distinct warm sound, a testament to all of the people involved on making the album, even with the different studios (one in New Orleans, one in NYC, and one in Nassau) and different players involved, the album keeps a consistent mood and proves that Palmer had a talent that was sadly slept on by the public for many years.

Label: Island Records

Release Date: 1974

Run Time: 35:24

Vocals: 9/10

Lyrics: 9/10

Production: 10/10

Overall Rating: 9.3/10

Top Tracks: All of the Above

Album Credits:

Sailing Shoes:

(Lowell George)

George Porter, Jr., bass

Leo Neocentelli, guitar

Lowell George, guitar

Art Neville, keyboards

Zig Modeliste, drums

Robert Palmer & Vicki Brown, backing vocals

The Meters, rhythm section

Hey Julia:

(Robert Palmer)

Robert Palmer, bass, marimbas & percussion

Jim Mullen, guitar

Robert Palmer & Vicki Brown, backing vocals

Jody Brown, percussion

Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley:

(Allen Toussaint)

The Meters, rhythm section

Lowell George, guitars

Steve York, harmonica

Jody Brown, percussion

Robert Palmer, backing vocals

Get Outside:

(Robert Palmer)

Richard Tee, piano

Bernard Purdie, drums

Cornell Dupree, guitars

Lowell George, guitars

Gordon Edwards, bass

Gaspar Lawal, percussion

Mel Collins, horns

Vicki Brown, backing vocals

Blackmail:

(Robert Palmer & Lowell George)

Richard Tee, piano

Bernard Purdie, drums

Cornell Dupree, guitars

Richard Parfitt, guitars

Gordon Edwards, bass

How Much Fun:

(Robert Palmer)

The Meters, rhythm section

Lowell George, guitar

Mongezi, flagfolet

Jody Brown, percussion

From A Whisper To A Scream: 

(Allen Toussaint)

The Meters, rhythm section

Lowell George, guitar

Chris Stainton, piano

Through It All There’s You:

(Robert Palmer)

Bernard Purdie, drums

Gordon Edwards, bass

Richard Tee, organ

Onaje, electric piano

Steve Winwood, piano

Cornell Dupree, guitar

Robert Palmer, rhythm guitar & harmonies

Mel Collins, horns

Mongezi, horns

Gaspar Lawal, percussion

Jack Vance, strings

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