Pressure Drop, the follow-up to 1974’s Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley would find Robert Palmer at an interesting crossroads in his career as despite the great craftsmanship on his previous LP he was still vastly unknown outside of the NYC music scene. As a result, Pressure Drop was not as cohesive as an album due to the desire to be more commercial. Unfortunately for Palmer, 1976 was a time where schmaltzy and breezy arrangements were in high demand and despite his best efforts this makes the album quite dated. However, the highlights on here stand up along with the best of Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley, from the title track (a cover of the famous Toots & The Maytals tune), to the slow burn of “Fine Time” as well as the rollicking “Riverboat” and “Trouble”,it’s quite clear (even from the album cover) that Palmer and his crack session band of Little Feat and the Muscle Shoals Horn Section and even James Jamerson (the bassist of Motown fame) have a whole lot of fun.
The album begins with “Give Me an Inch”, a title worked around the phrase “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” and the intro is pure 70’s strings and flutes, but Jamerson’s excellent bass line and Palmer’s vocal arrangement keep the song from delving into pure schmaltz.
“Work To Make It Work” is a rather fun number that follows, with a propulsive vocal round for an intro before the band drops into pure funk mode with clavinets and horns filling out the arrangement and Palmer putting on his best James Brown impression. Proof in the pudding that all the work Palmer and the band puts here truly does make it work.
“Back in My Arms” returns to the “Give Me an Inch” formula, but again Palmer’s sheer enthusiasm and energy keeps the song lively along with some great guitar work by Paul Barrere and Lowell George anchored by James Jamerson’s deftly plucked bass lines.
“Riverboat” finds Palmer returning to an Allen Toussaint cover while Little Feat is given full reign over the arrangement, the guitars burn, the piano shines and the rhythm section is full of the dynamics that made Little Feat such a great live band, and it’s a welcome change of pace to the record.
“Pressure Drop” comes up next, and boy do Palmer and Little Feat own this cover with warm vocal harmonies and a great off-kilter popping rhythm. Palmer’s vocal talents are on full display here, his talent for propelling a band to get in the zone and having great fun tearing into a cover (the piano solo here is a must), an absolute highlight.
On the original vinyl, “Pressure Drop” ends Side One, and the next track would begin Side Two.
“Here With You Tonight” starts off with a motoring hum of guitar as the arrangement takes off, anchored by a strong horn section and features Palmer’s great vocal work. Little Feat’s guitar section once again shines, the warm production suiting their burning tones perfectly and the pocket drumming and bass interplay is fantastic.
“Trouble” begins with a tuba and piano of all things, but one thing’s for sure in that it’s clearly a Little Feat number but it’s no mistake that Palmer hooked up with this band because their chemistry is fantastic and it’s always fun to follow along with Lowell George’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
“Fine Time” is the album’s steller track (only because “Pressure Drop” is a cover) with a false start and Palmer’s vocal count in starting this absolutely burning groove. While the tempo may be slower, the band matches the intensity of the arrangement on “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” with every player in top form, like coals on the fire, constantly smoldering, the organ coming to a peak with a great solo while the funky rhythm section (the drums are a highlight here) never trying to steal the spotlight. It’s truly Palmer’s vocal performance however, that turns this song into a classic, swooping in and out of the arrangement, not only holding down the groove but taking it to new heights. If you loved Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley, this is a must have.
“Which of Us Is The Fool” brings the album to a close, which is really unfortunate because the end of Side One and the beginning of Side Two were really kicking things into high gear and despite the immaculate arrangement here, the return to the smooth sound sounds out of place. Don’t let that detract from the actual song, James Jamerson is in top form here with his indelible bass line leading the way and Palmer’s vocals showcase his ability being able to handle both gritty and soft numbers, even the strings here don’t sound schmaltzy. Despite the initial shock from the change of pace, it’s a great album ender.
Label: Island Records
Release Date: 1976
Run Time: 36:54
Work to Make It Work- Robert Palmer
Here With You Tonight- Robert Palmer
Despite the missteps in the overall album cohesion, “Riverboat” to “Fine Time” present Robert Palmer and company as a band at their best, the energy apparent, and the glowing production really makes these songs stand out, even on computer speakers. It’s also great to see James Jamerson getting credit for once, especially on an album outside of Motown (The much maligned Motown band gets a great profile in Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which chronicles how Berry Gordy wouldn’t give the band credit on arrangements and didn’t allow the band to play on outside labels).
Pressure Drop is where we really start to see Palmer’s eclectic try to mesh together on an album, but to his credit only “Back in My Arms” (due to the lyrical content) really falls victim to the schmaltz (and just barely) that typifies the arrangements on “Give Me an Inch” and “Which Of Us Is The Fool”. It also begs the question what if Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley and Pressure Drop had been more successful?(Some People Can Do What They Like would follow, but would prove to be the nail in the coffin after little financial success) Sadly it’s little more than a footnote now as Palmer would be transformed by “Bad Case of Loving You”, “Simply Irresistible”, and “Addicted To Love” none of which would feature a band as talented as The Meters or Little Feat (Though Double Fun‘s “Every Kinda People” would be an under-looked Robert Palmer highlight). Yet Pressure Drop still remains as proof of a great band in action.
Unfortunately, the liner notes are not nearly as specific in terms of song to song but never the less:
Give Me An Inch
Work To Make It Work
Back in My Arms
Here With You Tonight
Which of Us is the Fool
Produced by: Steve Smith
Engineered and mixed by: Phil Brown
Guitar: Paul Barrere and Lowell George
Bass: Kenny Gradney and James Jamerson
Drums: Richie Hayward and Ed Greene
Keyboards: Bill Payne
Clavinet: Jean Rousseau and Gordon Dewitte
Congas: Sam Clayton and Ed Greene
Percussion: Richie Hayward, Ed Greene and Robert Palmer
Strings: Gene Page
Horns: Muscle Shoals Horns, Mel Collins, Mongezi Feza and Ray Allen
Voices: Paul Barrere, Sam Clayton, Richie Hayward, Vicki Brown, Robert Palmer and Fran Tate
Harp: David Snell
Flageolet: Mongezi Feza
Banjo: Joe Brown
Harmonica: Steve York
Tuba: Martin Frye
One thought on “Robert Palmer’s Lost Oeuvre Part II: Pressure Drop (1976)”
Another lovely review, keep it up.
I love all of Palmer’s early work while everyone else seems to covet his later, weaker post-Power Station output. Pressure Drop is one of my absolute favorites because of the rawness of the production.