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Pop - Released September 1, 1976 | A&M

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Joan Armatrading's eponymous third album is a charmer, almost single-handedly elevating her into the ranks of rock's leading female artists. Up to this point, Armatrading had shown that she had a lovely voice and an ear for interesting arrangements, but her work had been steeped in the folk idiom of the early '70s. Her third album changed all that, with producer Glyn Johns bringing in members of Gallagher & Lyle, Fairport Convention, and the Faces to punch up her folksy sound with elements of rock, country, and disco. The result is her most muscular music to date, with Armatrading adopting a swagger that showed her tales of unluckiness in love didn't have to have dire consequences ("Tall in the Saddle," "Water With the Wine"). Of course, it helped that the record featured her best material delivered in a wonderfully expressive voice that can capture the shades between song and speech like a sweeter version of Ian Anderson. "Down to Zero" (which features pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole) and "Love and Affection" are the album's most memorable tracks, the latter breaking into the U.K.'s Top Ten (the album itself made the U.K. Top 20). But what endears this record to fans is the quality of each song; it wouldn't be fair to call anything here filler. The artsy and eclectic "Like Fire," the beautiful ballad "Save Me," and the ingratiating melodies of "Somebody Who Loves You" are just as likely to strike a chord with listeners as the better-known cuts. While Glyn Johns deserves credit for bringing Joan Armatrading's songs into a more flattering setting -- it's not coincidental that the record feels like a polished version of The Who by Numbers -- his real stroke of genius was letting the artist flower to her full potential. For many, this album remains the high point in her catalog. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 18, 2021 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd

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Folk/Americana - Released October 1, 1978 | A&M

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To the Limit is a more fitting follow-up to the self-titled Joan Armatrading, as it returns to that album's catchy melodies and fully fleshed-out arrangements. Again, the backing band is almost entirely new to Armatrading, retaining only the rhythm section of Dave Markee and Henry Spinetti from past efforts, but instead of sounding tentative, the band infuses the material with bright and natural music. Although the record doesn't contain any hits -- "Barefoot and Pregnant" and "Bottom to the Top" were the singles -- it doesn't suffer from the dips in mood and quality that made Show Some Emotion less than satisfying. Nothing on To the Limit is obvious filler, and the intelligent track placement -- alternating ballads and rockers -- gives the songs a chance to develop their own identities. Picking the best tracks on this album is sure to be a matter of taste; fans of Armatrading's ballads will enjoy "Your Letter" and "Baby I," those enamored of her island melodies will find them on "Barefoot and Pregnant" and the reggae-styled "Bottom to the Top," and anyone looking for crossovers into blues and jazz can turn to "Am I Blue for You" and "You Rope You Tie Me." The only knock on this album is that it lacks a real standout song like a "Willow" or "Love and Affection" -- nothing on To the Limit is great, but nearly everything is good. One could make a case for something as contagiously catchy as "Taking My Baby up Town," but even that falls shy of her most enduring singles. For this reason, To the Limit is rarely represented come compilation time. Ironically, it's one of her better albums, a good bet for fans who enjoyed her eponymous effort and aren't ready to jump into the rock sound of subsequent albums. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 1, 1980 | A&M

On the trio of albums that made her reputation in 1976-1978, Joan Armatrading, Show Some Emotion, and To the Limit, Armatrading relied on the pristine production of Glyn Johns to underscore the sensitivity of her folk-based confessional songs. Here, on her first full-length album in two years, she turned to rock producer Richard Gottehrer and a session band that included Anton Fig, Chris Spedding, and members of the E Street Band, making her case for being a mainstream rocker. The songs were less serious, too, notably the title track, a U.K. hit. (The album's other British chart single was the ballad "All the Way from America," which was more in the style of her earlier work.) The result was the best-selling album Armatrading has ever had in either the U.S. or U.K. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released March 1, 1983 | A&M

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Many of the same musicians from Walk Under Ladders return for The Key, but gone are that album's warm island airs. Instead, producer Steve Lillywhite wraps -- some might say smothers -- Armatrading's voice in sophisticated synthesizers (courtesy of Larry Fast) and punchy rock arrangements that are enervating but less inviting than her earlier work. That more aggressive sound didn't come at the cost of commercial success, however, and both "(I Love It When You) Call Me Names" and "Drop the Pilot" (the latter produced by Val Garay) helped push The Key into the U.S. Top 40. Armatrading has always been an excellent communicator, and when given the spotlight -- as on the otherworldly "I Love My Baby" or the sinister "The Dealer" -- she is one of rock's more compelling female artists. Yet the decision to bring Tony Levin's bass up in the mix and find time for Adrian Belew's frenetic solos sells Armatrading's estimable talents short on some tracks. Thankfully, her humor and humanity rise above the arrangements at welcome intervals, notably with "Everybody Gotta Know," "What Do Boys Dream," and "Foolish Pride." Fans of her acoustic music may find The Key a little too aggressive for their tastes, but anyone open to modern rock should enjoy this album. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 1, 1980 | A&M

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On the trio of albums that made her reputation in 1976-1978, Joan Armatrading, Show Some Emotion, and To the Limit, Armatrading relied on the pristine production of Glyn Johns to underscore the sensitivity of her folk-based confessional songs. Here, on her first full-length album in two years, she turned to rock producer Richard Gottehrer and a session band that included Anton Fig, Chris Spedding, and members of the E Street Band, making her case for being a mainstream rocker. The songs were less serious, too, notably the title track, a U.K. hit. (The album's other British chart single was the ballad "All the Way from America," which was more in the style of her earlier work.) The result was the best-selling album Armatrading has ever had in either the U.S. or U.K. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released October 1, 1978 | A&M

To the Limit is a more fitting follow-up to the self-titled Joan Armatrading, as it returns to that album's catchy melodies and fully fleshed-out arrangements. Again, the backing band is almost entirely new to Armatrading, retaining only the rhythm section of Dave Markee and Henry Spinetti from past efforts, but instead of sounding tentative, the band infuses the material with bright and natural music. Although the record doesn't contain any hits -- "Barefoot and Pregnant" and "Bottom to the Top" were the singles -- it doesn't suffer from the dips in mood and quality that made Show Some Emotion less than satisfying. Nothing on To the Limit is obvious filler, and the intelligent track placement -- alternating ballads and rockers -- gives the songs a chance to develop their own identities. Picking the best tracks on this album is sure to be a matter of taste; fans of Armatrading's ballads will enjoy "Your Letter" and "Baby I," those enamored of her island melodies will find them on "Barefoot and Pregnant" and the reggae-styled "Bottom to the Top," and anyone looking for crossovers into blues and jazz can turn to "Am I Blue for You" and "You Rope You Tie Me." The only knock on this album is that it lacks a real standout song like a "Willow" or "Love and Affection" -- nothing on To the Limit is great, but nearly everything is good. One could make a case for something as contagiously catchy as "Taking My Baby up Town," but even that falls shy of her most enduring singles. For this reason, To the Limit is rarely represented come compilation time. Ironically, it's one of her better albums, a good bet for fans who enjoyed her eponymous effort and aren't ready to jump into the rock sound of subsequent albums. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 1, 1977 | A&M

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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | A&M

Joan Armatrading took matters into her own hands after the commercially disappointing Secret Secrets, producing and playing nearly all the guitars (acoustic and electric) on Sleight of Hand. It's not a demonstrably better record for it, although Armatrading's uncluttered production (with the aid of Steve Lillywhite, who mixed the record) is in many ways preferable to Secret Secrets' surfeit of sweetness. The album begins with two of Armatrading's most dance-oriented tracks, the Prince-ly "Kind Words (And a Real Good Heart)" and "Killing Time." Oddly, it's a style she doesn't re-visit on the album, returning instead to more familiar terrain on winning ballads like "Don Juan," "Jesse," and "Laurel and the Rose." If her voice has lost a little of its original luster, she reclaims some expressiveness and energy with the electric guitar, which may have been the rationale behind promoting the hard-rocking "Angel Man" as a single. As a producer, Armatrading is more inclined to engage in some very deliberate pacing, creating an extra layer of tension and drama behind songs like "One More Chance" and "Figure of Speech." While it comes at the cost of her last album's giddiness, she nearly makes up for it with the delightful "Russian Roulette." The backing band is again new, featuring a cast of relative unknowns plus a few returning guests. Keyboardist Alex White plays a prominent role in the arrangements, creating an atmospheric layer of sound that may well be the album's most audible link with Secret Secrets. Sleight of Hand often gets slighted come compilation time, but it's a well-crafted album that will appeal to fans who've traveled this far. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released September 1, 1976 | A&M

Joan Armatrading's eponymous third album is a charmer, almost single-handedly elevating her into the ranks of rock's leading female artists. Up to this point, Armatrading had shown that she had a lovely voice and an ear for interesting arrangements, but her work had been steeped in the folk idiom of the early '70s. Her third album changed all that, with producer Glyn Johns bringing in members of Gallagher & Lyle, Fairport Convention, and the Faces to punch up her folksy sound with elements of rock, country, and disco. The result is her most muscular music to date, with Armatrading adopting a swagger that showed her tales of unluckiness in love didn't have to have dire consequences ("Tall in the Saddle," "Water With the Wine"). Of course, it helped that the record featured her best material delivered in a wonderfully expressive voice that can capture the shades between song and speech like a sweeter version of Ian Anderson. "Down to Zero" (which features pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole) and "Love and Affection" are the album's most memorable tracks, the latter breaking into the U.K.'s Top Ten (the album itself made the U.K. Top 20). But what endears this record to fans is the quality of each song; it wouldn't be fair to call anything here filler. The artsy and eclectic "Like Fire," the beautiful ballad "Save Me," and the ingratiating melodies of "Somebody Who Loves You" are just as likely to strike a chord with listeners as the better-known cuts. While Glyn Johns deserves credit for bringing Joan Armatrading's songs into a more flattering setting -- it's not coincidental that the record feels like a polished version of The Who by Numbers -- his real stroke of genius was letting the artist flower to her full potential. For many, this album remains the high point in her catalog. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 11, 2018 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited

For an artist well into her fifth decade of writing and recording music, Joan Armatrading has remained more energized and prolific than singers half her age. Following a trilogy of albums devoted entirely to specific genres -- 2007's Into the Blues (blues), 2011 This Charming Life (rock), and 2013's Starlight (jazz) -- a collection of songs composed for a production of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, and a live album documenting her 18-month solo Me Myself I world tour, the British songwriting icon returns with Not Too Far Away, her first un-themed studio album since 2003's career highlight Lovers Speak. Like that album and a good portion of her canon before it, Not Too Far Away is chiefly concerned with various aspects of love and affection as Armatrading unburdens her soul's contents with the frank and approachable candor that is one her hallmarks. Her reliability not only as a writer but as a singer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist, has become a key part of her narrative -- especially in the second half of her career -- and she once again applies these talents, not only producing the album, but playing and programming every instrument and arranging the strings for her only guest artist, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Opening cut "I Like It When We're Together" is classic Armatrading, pairing heartfelt melodies with smartly crafted rhythmic pop. Likewise, the strident "Any Place" and effervescent "This Is Not That" both recall the bright hooks of her early-'80s new wave output, albeit with a softer edge. That said, Not Too Far Away is by no means a throwback to any earlier phase of her career, but rather a continuation of her shockingly consistent creative expression that has been ongoing since her 1970 debut. That Armatrading is still writing quality songs in 2018 is no surprise, but the single-mindedness of her vision and her doggedness to continue maintaining all aspects of are genuinely impressive. © Timothy Monger /TiVo
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Pop - Released August 29, 2000 | A&M

The Joan Armatrading entry in Universal's discount-priced compilation series 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection is a reduction of the 1996 Greatest Hits set, containing 12 of its predecessor's 19 tracks. Concentrating on the 1975-1983 period of the singer/songwriter's career and culling tracks from six of her 13 studio albums for A&M Records (plus one song from an EP), the retrospective is faced with the challenge of integrating Armatrading's stylistic shifts during the period. Her '70s albums, produced by Gus Dudgeon and Glyn Johns, were folk-pop efforts that brought her a fervent cult following, but in the '80s she turned to more rock-oriented producers Richard Gottehrer and Steve Lillywhite, and made records that reflected the influence of new wave music. Compilation producer Mike Ragogna deals with this by sequencing the material in roughly reverse chronological order, so that it begins with the hard-rocking numbers "Drop the Pilot" and "Me Myself I" and ends with the folkie ballads like "Willow" and "Love and Affection." In either style, Armatrading proves to be a versatile alto singer and an original, affecting songwriter, equally accomplished at sensitive tales of romantic conflict like "The Weakness in Me" and tongue-in-cheek satires like "I Love It When You Call Me Names," which starts out sounding like a first-person account of female masochism, only to turn out to be the ardent plea of a "short, short man" to his favorite dominatrix. ("It's their way of loving, not mine," the songwriter finally pipes up.) Although it contains some of Armatrading's best-known songs, the album is only a sampler. It may serve as a modestly priced way for neophytes to get a sense of her work, but those who are already fans will find it an inadequate summing up of her recording career. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released September 1, 1981 | A&M

Dominant keyboard lines and the characteristic fat percussion approach of producer Steve Lillywhite completed Armatrading's transformation from folky to new wave diva on this album. Still, it was songs like "The Weakness in Me" to which old fans responded, although the U.K. hits were "I'm Lucky" and "No Love." Another British Top Ten, the album was less successful in the U.S., consolidating Armatrading's expanded following without propelling her to major stardom. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released March 1, 1983 | A&M

Many of the same musicians from Walk Under Ladders return for The Key, but gone are that album's warm island airs. Instead, producer Steve Lillywhite wraps -- some might say smothers -- Armatrading's voice in sophisticated synthesizers (courtesy of Larry Fast) and punchy rock arrangements that are enervating but less inviting than her earlier work. That more aggressive sound didn't come at the cost of commercial success, however, and both "(I Love It When You) Call Me Names" and "Drop the Pilot" (the latter produced by Val Garay) helped push The Key into the U.S. Top 40. Armatrading has always been an excellent communicator, and when given the spotlight -- as on the otherworldly "I Love My Baby" or the sinister "The Dealer" -- she is one of rock's more compelling female artists. Yet the decision to bring Tony Levin's bass up in the mix and find time for Adrian Belew's frenetic solos sells Armatrading's estimable talents short on some tracks. Thankfully, her humor and humanity rise above the arrangements at welcome intervals, notably with "Everybody Gotta Know," "What Do Boys Dream," and "Foolish Pride." Fans of her acoustic music may find The Key a little too aggressive for their tastes, but anyone open to modern rock should enjoy this album. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2010 | A&M

How Cruel is a four-song, one-sided, 12-inch EP released, according to the blurb on the cover, because the tunes were "so good they couldn't wait for an album!!!" (The title track had already appeared, albeit not in the U.S., on the live Steppin' Out album.) In fact, the songs are good, although the decision to release them probably had more to do with having something in the marketplace between the autumn 1978 release of To the Limit and the spring 1980 release of Me Myself, I. The best track is "How Cruel," a complaint about her career ("I had somebody say once I was way too black/And someone answers she's not black enough for me") with a terrific sax solo by Lon Price, although "He Wants Her," with a lazy reggae beat, also impresses. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1990 | A&M

For much of her 12th new studio album, Joan Armatrading sounds like she is ending a bad relationship, but by the last two songs she sounds like she's beginning a good one. Still, she finds herself pledging herself to someone she worries may not have the same commitment she does. Thus, perhaps the album's signal song (and Armatrading's first UK chart single in five years) is "More Than One Kind Of Love," in which she touts the value of friendship over romance: "Good friendships seldom die," she sings, and we are painfully aware that, especially in Armatrading's world, even good love affairs seldom live. Still, this is less a revelation than an incremental development in the artist's work, and Hearts And Flowers doesn't contain any songs that rank among her best. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | A&M

Two years having passed since her last studio record, Joan Armatrading re-emerged with yet another producer (new wave veteran Mike Howlett) on Secret Secrets. Some of the material on here is very good, but the commercial momentum that had built up behind her during the early '80s was beginning to dissipate. The singles "Temptation" and "Thinking Man" are as catchy as "Drop the Pilot," and the message is more mature and upbeat this time, but the songs failed to make much of an impact in the U.S. It's hard to fault the music for the drop in commercial interest; Howlett's atmospheric production (honed during his work with bands like Berlin and OMD) is in line with the musical tastes of the mid-'80s. However, longtime fans will begin to notice some cracks, notably that Armatrading's voice is no longer the commodity it once was. "Strange" is the kind of ballad Armatrading would have owned a few albums ago, but here her voice strains to command the material. Musically, her acoustic guitar is completely lost in the mix (a disingenuous harmonica solo on "Moves" isn't so lucky), while labelmate Joe Jackson is brought in to play piano on the ballad "Love By You," a role normally reserved for herself. As a songwriter, Armatrading hasn't lost a step: "Talking to the Wall," "Persona Grata," and "Secret Secrets" are sure to strike a chord with fans. And the backing musicians are again exemplary, especially Pino Paladino (on fretless bass), Adrian Lee (on synthesizer), and a perky horn section that includes Steve Sidwell and Dave Bitelli. Yet the album does mark a slight decline in the quality (and quantity) of Joan Armatrading's music, even if the root of trouble isn't a lack of what to play but whom to play to. Of interest, the album's photography was done by Robert Mapplethorpe, which took some guts on Armatrading's part. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 1, 1977 | A&M

Retaining producer Glyn Johns and some of the same session players from her last record, Show Some Emotion repeated that album's chart success and included two more terrific singles in the same vein: "Show Some Emotion" and "Willow." However, the rest of the album sounds like outtakes from that effort. Gone is the smooth, honeyfied flow of Joan Armatrading; the lyrics seem to lack a sense of meter, the songs occasionally rely on pedestrian R&B arrangements to move them along, and the buoyant melodies are few and far between. Part of the problem stems from poor track placement; the vulnerable "Woncha Come on Home," which would have worked well at the end of side one or two, is an awful choice as the opening track. Placing the similar-sounding "Mama Mercy" and "Get in the Sun" next to each other suggests that Armatrading even had trouble coming up with filler, and waiting until the end of the album to unleash the energetic "Kissin' and a Huggin'" leaves the listener all charged up for nothing. While the title track and "Willow" are good enough to justify the album purchase alone, they're available on any number of compilations. Without them, Show Some Emotion lacks any must-own material, although the aptly titled "Warm Love," "Kissin' and a Huggin'," and the compelling "Opportunity" are worth hearing. Overall, this feels like a step back after her last effort. The fine voice and smattering of rock, jazz, and island melodies place it as vintage Joan Armatrading, but the material is a cut below her better work. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1988 | A&M

The good news is that, after several albums of flirting with rock and overproduction, Joan Armatrading has developed a spare sound once again focusing on her songs and singing, backed by such tasteful accompanists as Dire Straits members Mark Knopfler and Alan Clark. The not-so-good news is that, lyrically, Armatrading seems trapped in a romantic cul-de-sac -- when she doesn't have the object of her affections, she longs for him, but when she does have him, she argues with him and suspects him of infidelity, not to mention emotional abuse. There is a traditional sense of relationships mixed in with hints of the nascent "men just don't get it" flavor of '90s feminism. One is tempted to say that you can't have it both ways, but then Armatrading's emotional outpourings have always had more to do with contemporaneous honesty than long-term consistency. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2006 | Hip-O Select

Not released in the U.S. until 2007, the live recording STEPPIN' OUT captures Joan Armatrading on her 1979 world tour, poised between the critical success of her beautiful folk album SHOW SOME EMOTION and her considerably more rocking ME MYSELF I, which had yet to be released. The live set blends both approaches, and Armatrading's, powerful, nuanced vocals sound perfectly at home on percolating folk-rock numbers ("Mama Mercy"), bluesy torch songs ("Tall in the Saddle"), new wave rockers ("How Cruel"), and transcendent waltzes ("Love Song"). © TiVo