Saturday 10th March
Joan Armatrading 2 Her second album was Back To The Night. I find this a slightly unsatisfactory record: it was recorded mostly with a handful of session players, who I don’t think were really attuned to Joan’s songs. Or it may have been the other way round, and Joan wasn’t really ready to work with these new people. She is reputed to have argued with her record producer that she didn’t even want to sing on the record at all, that she just wanted to write the songs and play guitar or piano. Whatever the reason it doesn’t quite work despite having the splendid song “Cool Blue Stole My Heart” on it. I was, at this time – the mid-seventies – an avid recorder of live concerts on BBC radio, and live she sings this and a few other songs from this record far better and with far more feeling ‘live’ than on the studio versions. Maybe she was just having difficulty working with other players, which, when she went on tour with her own hand-picked band, was not a problem. Having seen her myself a couple of times live, her songs take on a special resonance live. And yet she has been quite reluctant to release live albums until this Century, when maybe her slowing down of new material has prompted her to put out, but even here, only a couple, of live records.
Her third album was simply titled Joan Armatrading, rather strange for a third album. But this was indeed a re-launch. Glynn Johns was her new producer, and he seems to have worked brilliantly with her. This is THE early Joan album to get, almost every song is exceptional, and her voice is so sensual and lazy, wrapping itself around the words, caressing them. The album opens with a bluesy “Down to Zero” and closes with “Tall in The Saddle” and there isn’t a poor song between these two classics. I think that “Love and Affection” is just possibly the most accurate love song ever written, it is just exquisite. I also love “Water With The Wine” and “Somebody Who Loves You”. I don’t think Joan’s singing has ever been better than on this record, bluesy and gentle and yet strong and determined, even in the same song. Like all the greatest singers, she is not only note perfect but manages to get so much emotion into her singing – and is instantly recognisable. They had a programme on telly once where they tried to get ‘Pop’ singers to sing opera, and vice versa. Of course, it didn’t work, but the most ridiculous were those perfect opera singers completely ruining rock and pop songs. There is something about the immediacy of this music that just hits the right nerves in our brains. This record is so good I have just listened to it three times in a row – and it sounds just as fresh and relevant each time.