Singer-songwriter Holly Palmer's music is something you feel as much as you hear. Maybe more - absorbed by the senses and infiltrated into the brainwaves, it's a vibe that puts body, mind and soul in motion. A seamless mixture of soul, pop, jazz and blues, her sound is hard to neatly sum up in words – there's an impeccably crafted and exotically fluid structure to Holly's songs, a graceful architecture that won't be confined by adjectives or genre boundaries. It's a landscape that, beyond its unique melodic and lyrical lines, embraces what Holly calls, "all the spaces in the music, the silences, the nooks and crannies and little secrets going on." Central to it is Palmer's voice, an instrument ripe with immediacy and emotional intelligence. As a writer and singer, she never fails to make a direct hit.
The Los Angeles-based Palmer – who was raised near Seattle and has lived in Boston, London, and New York – says that she first learned music by singing, over and over, along to the Sarah Vaughan classic "Sassy's Blues" – which Vaughan wrote with Quincy Jones – specifically, the resplendent live take from Sassy Swings The Tivoli. That rapt connection with an audience is a passion constantly driving Palmer's vocal dynamics, both in the studio and onstage – "It's important to me to be singing to someone," she says. Another echo of the legendary Vaughan that colors Holly's work is her confident, sophisticated and versatile sense of phrasing. Palmer's dexterous song interpretations linger on long after the final notes fade out. "I feel like my job," she says, "is to reach out and grab someone's heart so they can feel it. We're all running around so fast getting knocked around by life. I want to cut through that."
In citing other artists that have been inspirations – including Al Green, Rickie Lee Jones, the Beatles, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Donny Hathaway, Holly says, "when I hear a person's soul coming right through their voice, that's what really moves me." More than anything, that authentic core of soul, and its unfiltered transmission, is the essence of Holly's stunning body of work. It fully informs her solo artistry – including her new album Songs For Tuesday – her extended tenures singing back-up for David Bowie and Gnarls Barkley, her vocal collaborations with Dr. Dre and, most recently, Bubbles & Cheesecake, Palmer's new singing, writing and producing collaboration with GRAMMY-winning, Tony/Emmy-nominated composer Allee Willis.
Songs For Tuesday, released July, 2007, on Holly's own Bombshell Records, was recorded live in 2006 in the main tracking room of an L.A. recording studio over two nights with an audience of twenty people in-house. The spellbinding pulse and heady rush of intimate live performance are felt throughout the eleven tracks, a set of warm, raw, confessional, confrontational and emotionally direct songs spotlighting Palmer's virtuoso vocals and a dramatic arc ranging from exuberance to yearning, anguish to seduction and torch to tenderness. "Making the music was organic," says Holly, "there was no over-thinking. We dreamed up how we wanted it to be and had a really good time doing it."
Palmer, who plays a wurlitzer keyboard on the album, co-produced Songs For Tuesday with Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) – featured on drums – and Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Macy Gray, Ima Robot), the disc's bassist. The line-up is rounded out by keyboardist Roger Manning (Jellyfish, Beck) and guitar ace Lyle Workman (Beck, Todd Rundgren, Sting). Exploring the vagaries of love, sex and romance with the elegant urgency of a worldly, post-modern Dusty Springfield and a gritty, elemental soulfulness all her own, Holly slays songs including the blues scorcher "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know," the dazzling romantic pop/R&B gem "I Will" (featured in the 2005 Jessica Alba film Into The Blue) and the haunting, deceptively soft-spoken despair of "Your Love Is Gonna Kill Me." Another favorite singled out by the artist is "That's Why They Call It Rome," a quixotic and wistful meditation on a disconnected relationship that is utterly distinctive and absolutely unforgettable.
Another song on the disc – "Girl In Lust"– is a Holly Palmer/Allee Willis co-write that is making the transformation from its stripped-down Tuesday version to a funked up Bubbles & Cheesecake treatment to be featured on the new duo's forthcoming debut album The Soul Of Bubbles & Cheesecake. Palmer and Willis first began writing together in 2001, just after Palmer finished two years of touring and recording (on Hours) with David Bowie. Their initial intention was to write songs for what was to become Holly's next solo album I Confess, whose title track is now also another reinvented B&C tour de force. Their collaboration was put on pause when Willis – whose songs have sold over 50 million records including Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" and "Boogie Wonderland," the Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance" and the theme to Friends – was called away to co-compose the ultimately Tony-nominated music & lyrics for the Broadway smash The Color Purple.
Palmer took the hiatus to finish I Confess, and released it on Bombshell Records in '04. In its review, Playboy Magazine called Holly the "thinking dude's (and dudette's) pop sex symbol," adding, "she comes on breathy, vulnerable, formidable and most definitely grown-up." Interview Magazine deemed the disc, "an inventive hip-hop-inflected collection of songs about loss and betrayal on which Palmer pulls no punches." The Mail on Sunday in London called it, "consistently excellent...quite commercial, like a less manic version of Gwen StefaniÂ´s album." Highlights include the soul-stirring single "Just So You Know," a bare, aching Don Was-produced cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "You Keep Me Hangin' On," Dr. Dre's mix of "Jumping Jack" and the gospel flavored "Down So Low," featuring the late, great Billy Preston on piano and Joachim Cooder on drums. Of the latter, Holly says, "It was recorded live in the studio, with none of us wearing headphones. We were playing together in the most personal way. With no amplification, the music became a conversation as we all leaned in to hear one another. That does something magical to a song."
In 2004 as well, Holly self-released Tender Hooks, the album that was to have been the follow-up to her '96 self titled debut album on Reprise/Warner Bros. She was able to keep hold of the masters, produced by Howie B (U2, Bjork, Sinead O'Connor), after amicably parting with the label. She also crooned with Canadian pop icon Michael Bublé on the theme for the '03 Ewan McGregor/Renée Zellweger film Down With Love, a stylish recording that allmusic.com called, "the ring-a-ding-ding title track, a craftily written battle-of-the-sexes duet." In '06, Holly toured the world singing in the live band for the genre bending "St. Elsewhere" phenomenon Gnarls Barkley. While en route with that culture-shifting caravan, Palmer learned Willis was available to write again, and came off the road to pick up where they'd left off.
Early on in their renewed sessions, the collaboration veered from writing songs for Palmer to being a full-blown Holly and Allee album, with all duties shared. "We sat down to work," says Holly, "and Allee said, 'I want to produce these records with you, I don't want to see the kookiness, the soul, get ironed out.'" The concept soon evolved into a larger collective of talents, putting Willis and Palmer's alter-egos, Bubbles & Cheesecake, respectively, into the mix. "Allee and Holly really know how to make records," the duo notes, "and Bubbles and Cheesecake really know how to have fun."
Their debut album, The Soul Of Bubbles & Cheesecake, features stand-outs including the insanely funky lead anthem "It's A Woman Thang" – available on iTunes – "Girl In Lust" and "Cryin', Lovin', Leavin'," co-written with the legendary Lamont Dozier, who's also featured on background vocals. Dedicated to a soul-deep spirit of unfettered and fearless self-expression, Bubbles & Cheesecake – through music and integrated graphic, visual and virtual components – represents both Palmer and Willis' lifelong love of classic soul music and what they see as a global vision about encouraging people to feel empowered to express themselves and embrace their individuality.
For Holly Palmer, an artist who has based her life in music on staying true to her muse and remaining outside the box, it is an ecstatically freeing validation of that journey. It's joyful and complex and fierce and undeniable. It's the sound of her soul coming right through her voice.