I love travelling, and I enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
I mention this because Dee Palmer’s new solo work, Through Darkened Glass, is a journey as wild and atmospheric as any I have taken.
Palmer provided orchestral arrangements for Jethro Tull, before becoming a full-time member in 1977, and some of these songs, or landscapes, would not be out of place on a Tull album. If I was pressed to label this project, I would call it ‘Celtic Orchestral Progressive Soundscapes’.
I listened to the album while travelling through England and Wales on a train. It was perfect. Dee’s music mirrored the flashing landscape – tempo changes, light and shade, beautiful undulating mountains and colours in metamorphosis.
The first composition, ‘Urban Apocalypse’, originally composed for the Jethro Tull album, ‘Storm Watch’, sets an ominous tone.
A choir sing from the ‘Requiem Mass’, then ‘Psalm 43’ from the ‘Book Of Common Prayer’, and then Dee sings her own words (from the Book Of Common Sense!).
The arrangements are masterful and evocative, merging the sounds of hoof-beats with strings and wind instruments, drums, bass and there’s even a fantastic guitar solo from ‘guest soloist’, Martin Barre. The lyrics warn against the so-called progress of greed, baseless, vacuous fame and inequality. It’s heady stuff.
‘Black Orpheans’ is a paean to the ‘pit choirs’ of a bygone age, of mines and collieries. Again, it weaves the hissing, clanking ambient sounds of machinery with strings and voices to great effect.
Dee Palmer’s lyrics work seamlessly with the musical arrangements:
“Iron, steel, coal, coke; bitter ale and ciggy smoke”.
The final verse is particularly moving:
“But when they sing of lambs of an April evening;
‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Crimond’s’ dying fall,
They bare their souls for a thousand fathers,
And cry their songs to an empty hall.”
Dee’s voice is unusual. She has a conversational style that, mostly, works perfectly with her songs. It’s as unique as her arrangements and song subjects. In one or two places, I might have liked, say, Maddy Prior or Kate Bush to have sung, but this is Dee’s project and, for the most part, I think her vocals are spot on.
‘The Still Point’ and ‘Through Darkened Glass’ are exquisitely crafted, poignant vignettes, and lead to my personal favourite, ‘Emmanuelle’, based on the famous photograph, ‘Le baiser de L’hotel de ville, Paris’, by Robert Doisneau.
Paris is my favourite city, so this couldn’t fail to resonate. And anyone who has loved and lost, will be moved by this beautiful song. Imagine Jacques Brel, Scott Walker and Edith Piaf getting together at a cafe piano. It is a song about how the blindness of love offers a temporary respite from reality. I think it’s amazing.
‘Night In Spain’ is a perfect companion to ‘Emmanuelle’. As a young man, I briefly lived in Spain, and fell in love with a young woman. She was a dancer, and the affair was short-lived but unforgettable. This song reminds me of that.
I don’t think there are too many composers who could write a song about a cathedral. ‘Old Lady Grey’ does just that. Chartres Cathedral becomes a symbol for lost faith, a lady who seems out of place and aimless in the misty fields of time.
‘Forever Albion’ is a love song to a country. This country. It is enormous in scope and remarkable in execution. It begins and ends with the sound of oars through the cold, English water and, in between, takes us on a trip through our own geographical and musical heritage.
“Sweet the rose – sharp the thorn,
Meek the soil yet proud the corn.”
Musically, I hear echoes of the sacred, the Medieval, then the innovations of the Renaissance, and back to the Modern. It’s an incredible piece, and deeply moving.
This collection is as beautiful, dramatic, soothing and clashing as the view from my train window.
Through Dee Palmer’s songs and arrangements, through her darkened glass, we are shown those fleeting, beautiful, sorrowful and hopeful moments of love and loss that become the memories to define our lives.
It is a triumph.
Copyright © 2018 William Henry Prince. All rights reserved.