Rissi Palmer Puts the Soul in Country

Rissi Palmer teeters on the precipitous edge of a breakthrough. No, she hasn’t discovered the cure for cancer. Well, maybe she has. Rissi Palmer is a country singer. Understand that last sentence. Rissi Palmer sings country. What I heard is definitely fresh, but her country roots are unmistakable. And her music refuses to wallow in the tar pit of “Crossover”.

Rissi also happens to be black. If the rest of her CD is good as the songs on her website, she may have cured the cancerous growth called “new country”. I don’t say this because she’s black. In fact, when you listen to her, close your eyes. Aside from a subtle round timbre and sweet warmth in her voice, you might not guess her ethnicity. So what (or who) does she sound like? Although comparisons are unavoidable, they often help a new audience place music in context until a more deliberate listen. Listening to Anybody Out There, you’d have to be deaf not to hear traces of Reba McEntire in the lilting chorus,

Is there anybody out there?
Somebody out there?
That one body out there…

Country Girl, the single apparently aimed at the CMT crowd, is the anthemic country pride song required of new singers. Yet a hint of Beyonce in the chorus livens it up without straying too far afield. All the singles at her website showcase an emotion-laden songstress belting out mature lyrics devoid of kitschy phrases and innuendo. She also writes most of her songs.

Her band’s sound is pristine, with a darling mandolin leading the pack. Some of the music has that dobro and slide “‘gator country” feel to it. The musicians may not wow you with genre-bending pyrotechnics, but they don’t confuse retread Loverboy licks for country either. Of course, my review is based on four songs I heard at her website. The rest of the upcoming album may be a disappointment, but I doubt it will.

Rissi has talent, looks, and the publicity machine necessary to succeed in today’s music world. Will she make it? It’s a tough call. The intersection of politics and music is sharply defined in the country genre. The Dixie Chicks discovered that the hard way before winning a basket full of Grammys. It’s not that Palmer is billing herself as anyone other than a country musician, but historically there have been few slots in the public spotlight for Major League black country musicians.

Remember Cleve Francis? I didn’t think so.

Recently, Cowboy Troy has made quite a stir. But stirring a pot of boiling water doesn’t make it soup. And frankly, “country-like” music isn’t country music. At least Rissi doesn’t have to battle the sexual context caused by a good-looking black man whoopin’ it up with a passel of attractive white women.

But Rissi has more going for her than golden pipes and solid songwriting. While Troy’s musical collages are decidedly niche (perhaps even gimmicky), Palmer’s music is genuine country. And it’s delivered with an honesty as sweet as homemade banana pudding.

Thank you Jet magazine for the short take on Rissi.