Bill Palmer ‘Under Endless Skies’

album review

BILL PALMER – “Under Endless Skies” (2015, Frogville)

Few would doubt that Bill Palmer has two of the best ears in Santa Fe.  After all, his ears have been engineering, producing, mixing, and mastering the lion’s share of Frogville Studios output for close to 2 decades.  So it’s no surprise that when he comes down from the mountain and lays down his own songs, they’re going to sound good.

“Under Endless Skies” is a straight-ahead rock album with minimal frills.  Palmer seems uninterested in teasing out the twang so many Santa Fe musicians consider their bread and butter.  Yet, there’s almost a ghost of crying slide guitar haunting the background at times.  Even then, Palmer leans more “Americana” than “Country,” and that’s probably to his benefit.

I’m surely not the first to have noticed Palmer’s occasional sonic resemblance to Tom Petty, and the first track, “Gold,” definitely borrows heavily from the Petty book of aesthetics, right down to the poppy back-up vocals.  This is as summery as the album gets.

There’s a distinct air of melancholy hanging over much of the proceedings, not that I don’t enjoy some good moodiness now and then, and there’s plenty of a high caliber to be enjoyed here.  Palmer broods through “Will You Run,” implying what Wilco might sound like if Leonard Cohen was their frontman.  Love songs, whether about good love, forbidden love, unrequited love, or loving gone bad, are thematic standards in rock songwriting, and Palmer displays a comfort with and control of this device on these tunes.  He’s not breaking any new ground, even by his own repertoire’s standards, but as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.  Songs like “Last Light of Summer,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “Honey Take It Easy” follow the time-tested template of love songwriting without sounding too generic.  

Two especially atmospheric tracks in the album’s second half are “Mask” and “Inferno.”  They lay on the effects a little heavier than is technically necessary, but add a nice flavor to the overall sound of the album, helping it alternate pleasantly between smoldering and breezy, concise yet laid back.

“Stars,” the closer and, lyrically, the title track of this album, seems to tie all the preceding themes together, like an operatic overture coming at the end instead of the beginning, as though we’ve just completed a journey and are now looking back on “all the lessons learned.”  I know it can be dangerous to associate too literally the art with the artist, but this album feels like a very personal diary.  All in all, “Under Endless Skies” is an album to immerse oneself in and enjoy the fact that not only do some men have feelings, but are able to articulate them as well.

by Chris Diestler

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