Paul Carrack may not yet be a household name, but he's definitely something of a household voice.
Trivia buffs shouldn't have too much trouble figuring the common thread that connects the Top 50 chart hits "How Long" (released in 1975), "Tempted" (1981), "I Need Love" (1982) and "Silent Running" (1986).
What all four records share is singer Carrack, a slick white soul songster from England who headlines the Palace tonight with an impressive band that includes bassist Nick Lowe and guitarist Andy Fairweather Low.
The reason for Carrack's minimal name recognition is that only one of the five pre-1988 hit singles ("I Need Love") was under his own name. The other records were credited to the groups he recorded them with--Ace, Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics.
Now, however, Carrack, 36, appears to have slipped off the shackles of anonymity. After signing a solo contract with Chrysalis Records, Carrack finally has a major Top 10 hit, "Don't Shed a Tear," with his name on it. And even as mild-mannered and humble a fellow as Carrack can't help but admit that achieving that kind of name recognition is important.
"I do want to have a career, I do want to make records, I do want to sing," Carrack said by phone from San Francisco, where he was rehearsing for a seven-city mini-tour that opens with the Palace show. "And if you want to get to make records these days, you have to sell a few, and you basically have to be a frontman."
If Carrack sounds almost apologetic about being out in front, it's a role he hasn't spent much time in recently. Though he feels strongest as a singer, Carrack is also an in-demand organ and piano player, which means his vocal talents sometimes get shunted aside.
Back in his brief employment as a member of Squeeze, he was the keyboard player, not the lead singer ("Tempted" was the only cut he ever sang with the group). Similarly, he's backed up Roxy Music, buddy Nick Lowe and, most recently, Roger Waters.
Surprisingly, Carrack did little of the actual playing on his new album, "One Good Reason." His last solo effort, 1982's "Suburban Voodoo" (produced by Lowe), was an R & B/pop effort chock full of delirious Hammond organ, but it was also a commercial disappointment after which Carrack "got the bullet" from his record company.
For his second chance at a solo album, Carrack hired Mike + the Mechanics producer Christopher Neil, who filled the new LP with similarly slick, modern electronic textures of the sort usually foreign to Carrack. None of the musicians joining him on the tour was on the record.
"I did let Chris have a lot of influence on this album," he said. "I wanted it to be strong to get a good old foot in the door again. We made a posh-sounding album that's more accessible to a lot of people. But on the next one I intend to play a lot more, and I would want to put more of my personality in it."
The smoother shift of direction was somewhat predictable, given that it was Carrack's work with Mike + the Mechanics that finally won him another solo contract.
"That thing with the Mechanics came completely out of the blue, and I suddenly found myself singing in that more modern setting. I always thought I would sound OK singing that sort of thing, but the opportunity hadn't come up. . . . People come up to me and say, 'Oh, you do all this wildly diverse stuff,' but basically, 'Silent Running' is a soulful little tune. I enjoy singing that as much as R & B."
How will "Don't Shed a Tear" and other such admittedly slick LP material translate live when played by a band that leans toward, in Carrack's words, a "rough 'n' ready" rock style? "Obviously not as glossy as the record. I think it'll sound a bit meaner," Carrack predicted. "It's going to sound a lot . . . meaner, actually. It's tough as old boots."