North Atlantic Drift
Palmer is a natural singer, songwriter Can stand beside jazz, country greats By STEPHEN PEDERSEN Arts Reporter, HalifaxChronicle Herald Tena Palmer is a no-frills singer. Unpretentious, low-key, audience friendly, a natural performer - she saves her fire for her music. Technically she's a virtuoso. Expressively she's a rare one, right up there with the jazz great ones - Ella, Billie, Sarah - in her ability to take us into the heart of the song: she gives us the gift of discovering depths and nuances of feeling in ourselves we never suspected we had. But she also sings country and bluegrass, and requires no handicap to stand alongside Patsy Cline. The two singers are similar both in style and in the conviction that the music is as much about the quiet, universal passion that gives birth to it as it is about heartbreak and loneliness. As a songwriter, Palmer's gift for metaphor takes a simple song about the loneliness of a touring musician and shifts it into warp drive, not so much propelling the song into a wider universe of human isolation, and the alienation it generates, as instantaneously bringing that wider universe home into the here and now of the concert hall. Songwriting comes as naturally to Palmer, apparently, as her vocal agility in navigating both a wide range of notes (some high enough to qualify as squeaks) and her rainbow palette of timbres. She sang a song about looking for a missing hairclip after listening to West Virginia mining songs. But the song is really about women musicians late for a gig. It's a country blues and Palmer wailed it out, pulling notes around the top of the chord changes like taffy. Most of her songs were originals, but she also sang choice compositions by Gordon Lightfoot, Merle Travis, Mason Daring and Jimmy Driftwood. The lady has taste as well as talent. Of her own songs, Christmas in Antarctica was typical of her originality and her intellectual curiosity about the strangeness of our planet: Christmas near the South Pole occurs in high summer with 24 hours of perpetual daylight. Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2005 Entertainment / Recordings Roving Tena has a lot to say North Atlantic Drift **** Tena Palmer with John Geggie and Dan Artuso (Independent) By Doug Fischer Everything we know about Tena Palmer tells us she's a restless spirit. Best known in Ottawa as the daringly evocative singer for Chelsea Bridge, the early - '90s Celtic-jazz quartet, Palmer has traveled well beyond the usual boundaries since then, musically and geographically. For six years, she hung out in Reykjavik, Iceland, a creative breeding ground where she threw herself into projects that included adventures in alt-bluegrass, bossa nova, choral music, electronics and poetry. She also recorded her debut solo CD, Crucible, part of a five-disc series of experimental music that made something of a splash in Europe. Along the way came tours of Scandinavia, a home in the Netherlands, frequent trips to North America for concerts and recording, all of it culminating ( and hey, why not?) in a 2003 move to Ottawa and a teaching gig at Carleton. "I've always had this need to keep moving", she said around the time she settled in Ottawa. "That applies to my life and my music. Who knows how long I'll be here?" Two years later, palmer is still in town. And if North Atlantic Drift is any measure, the layover has provided just the reflective balm to soothe that unruly spirit. The recording is a deeply personal travelogue about life on the road, about the hours spent with and without lovers, about longing and loneliness, about the tutg between the need to put down roots and the pull of the highway. "I play on the road/with no one to pick-up the phone/when it's late and I call my home", she sings on Dexterous Western Men, a bitter-sweet tale of love-gone-off-the-rails that sets the stage for what's to come. And what follows is a mix of originals and unexpected covers - old nuggets like My Buddy, modern heart-tuggers like Tom Waits' The Briar and the Rose and oddball showtunes like Small World - each in it's own way playing to Palmer's theme of restlessness. Joined by Chelsea bridge alumnus, John Geggie on bass - it's their first time on record together in a decade - and Dan Artuso on guitar and pedal steel, Palmer's voice is set against a sensually spare soundscape that places acoustic folk and bluegrass next to voice-bass jazz duets and shimmering bossa nova. The record's high point comes on North Atlantic Drifter, a dreamy, luxurious memoir about "getting lost chasin' dreams 'round the bend" in Iceland or anyplace else people run to find refuge from love. Or, perhaps, to find love. "I'd always dreamed of a cowboy/who'd lope into town all lanky and lonesome/and I know lonesome/lonesome I know," Palmer sings with raw quietness courted by Artuso's lonesome pedal steel. It's a piercing moment on a disc that sticks in your brain and comes back tot haunt you when you least expect it. Alanis Morissette, Lynn Miles, Kathleen Edwards. It's time to add Tena Palmer's name to the list of Ottawa songwriters with something to say. ***** A classic of the genre **** Excellent *** Good ** Fair The Globe and Mail : NEW RELEASES JAZZ Mark Miller Friday, April 29, 2005 North Atlantic Drift Tena Palmer TLP /Festival *** Tena Palmer was tough to pin down when she sang with the wonderful Ottawa jazz band Chelsea Bridge in the mid-1990s and she's still tough to pin down here with bassist John Geggie and acoustic, electric and pedal-steel guitarist Dan Artuso. There's as much country in her songs as there is jazz on North Atlantic Drift, although it's country rather the way jazzer Sheila Jordan might sing it -- alternately wistful and wearied, with a touch of sass but mostly a gentle ache that's quietly convincing no matter what the style. CBC music reviewer, Matthew Crozier, on Ottawa Morning, Mar.3rd, 2005 Review of North Atlantic Drift - - 'This time it's story-driven and she's making every word count'. - 'She's got a classic song-writing style; very simple and effective'....'personal, with a universal appeal, catchy'. - 'What makes this rise above a lot of other things is, she's got a great voice. It's intimate, powerful, with a wide range of emotions - has that timeless kind of sound.' - '(The group's approach)'works extremely well! All three players allow for space'. - "John could probably be asleep and out-play most musicians". ___ The Montreal Gazette May 5, 2005 Tena Palmer North Atlantic Drift TLP/Festival Rating: 4 stars Tena Palmer, who distinguished herself with Chelsea Bridge, the Ottawa-based Celtic Jazz Quartet, has a disarming and distinctive presence in this session, with bass and guitar accompaniment. Palmer's group won the 1993 award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival for best new Canadian group. Here she has a decidedly country tinge on 14 tunes, six penned by Palmer. They are verbal collages set off by John Geggie (acoustic bass) and Dan Artuso (acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars). Palmer has a highly imaginative if sometimes enigmatic presence as she plays with line and space. Check out Artuso's poignant You Hold on to Me and two wistful versions of Humpty Dumpty Heart, a LaVern Baker favourite.-Irwin Block RATINGS: 5 stars - instant classic 4 stars - wonderful.