9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A mature masterpiece of a mature woman,
This review is from: Into The Blues (Audio CD)
I fell in love with Joan in the mid-70's after hearing her Back To The Night album (vinyl issued 1975; so sad it is currently unavailable on CD) and her 3rd album called simply Joan Armatrading (1976). I was extremely charmed by her vocal (smooth & husky & strong & natural, capable of unbelievable finesses, which were, however, very functional and devoid of any signs of exhibitionism). She had an outstanding technique of tone forming which varied with every syllable she sang. The other point was she was a fantastic song-writer of charming melodies, performed with great feeling, only occassionally bluesy. Her lyrics has been also delightful, sensitively marking the intimate spaces between two people. I came back to JA in the early 80's (Me Myself I, 1980) and then again, I somewhat forgot about her (being principally a rock fan). Then it took me another 15 years to get astonished for the third time, by means of her fantastic comeback with the album What's Inside (1995). I thought this was to be her last masterpiece ... and I did not expect she might ever level this.
However, this album shook me again. It preserves all the above mentioned attributes of JA's art, but, in addition, it indeed extends them. (I cannot recall many in the showbiz world that would be artistically growing and maturing being aged 57 - the majority can at best level previous efforts, but never go beyond). Joan's vocal darkened a bit, maybe as a consequence of the repetoire she performs. Although more than one half of the new songs are pricipally bluesy things (as indicated by the title of the album), it is incredible how Joan's creativity made the whole album so variable in mood, tempo, instrumentations. From the gloomy balads (the bluesy Empty Highway) to solidly rocking pieces (Deep Down, held on one single chord; There Ain't a Girl Alive); from her inventive classical song-writing (A Woman In Love; Baby Blues Eyes) to the classical electric blues things (My Baby's Gone; Liza). You may notice traces of funky, reggae, boogie, also gospel (Secular Songs). Another point is the instrumentation - as always, first-class. We used to hear many well-known studio musicians with her in the past - now Joan performes everything on her own with the exception of drums. There are wondeful guitar solos (some even aggressively rocking - There Ain't a Girl Alive), if not to mention the numerous tiny blues miracles she produces on her guitar. On one of the tracks (Baby Blue Eyes), her guitar playing even reminds of old Velvet Underground. The bass lines are perfect as well. Even the mouth harp appears (simple, but powerful). No backing vocals - just perfect overdubbs of her own. And last but not least - the lyrics. Simply you trust her, the charming lady, so open without any pretending in love affairs (..when you sing the blues, I'll take off my clothes for you). Surprisigly, even autobiographic (Mama and Papa) and social themes from an immigrant milieu appear, a feature I was not used to with Joan. The closing, slowly gradating bluesy song (Something's Gotta Blow) with the socially oriented lyrics is really overwhelming. Amen. We've heard the trinity of words, singing and music of JA, a mature woman who has created an extremely mature piece of art.