BLUES & CHAOS: THE MUSIC WRITING OF ROBERT PALMER
By Robert Palmer; Edited By Anthony DeCurtis
[Rating: 4.5 stars]
The estimable, passionate critic and journalist Robert Palmer is no doubt best recalled 13 years after his death as the author of the seminal book Deep Blues, and as host and tour guide of the Mississippi “musical pilgrimage” documentary derived from it. As we’re reminded by this most welcome anthology, well-culled and assembled by Anthony DeCurtis, the heart of Palmer’s wide-ranging writing over the course of 25-plus years almost always took the reader on some journey or other, and very regularly went deep. His musical profiles are most riveting (and, you sense, were for him, too) when the subject’s musical development encompassed a journey as well—Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, the early punk scene.
He was always looking for a moment, place and musical cast—a rising musical situation—that lives and breaths in rhythm, whether the rhythm happened to be that of blues, rock, jazz, country, avant-garde classical, or what’s now called “world music,” and he’s astonishingly at home in them all. When he knows he’s called on to be the readers’ teacher—on Texas Blues, or Philip Glass, or Morocco’s Dionysian Master Musicians of Jajouka—he’s great at it, getting down the facts and making them rattle. And for all of his attraction in life to that chaos mentioned in this volume’s title, his writing is clear, clean and artfully ordered.