10 Songs, 35 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

An awful lot of ‘70s-era singer/songwriters tried to ride the New Wave — but few pulled it off with as much grace as Joan Armatrading did on Walk Under Ladders (1981). Producer Steve Lillywhite surrounded her with throbbing synthesizers, abrasive guitars and squealing saxophones while retaining her innate soul and sensitivity. Joan seems energized by the fresh sounds, zestfully applying her deep-toned vocals to upbeat tracks like “When I Get It Right,””I Wanna Hold You” and “At The Hop.” She coolly glides through the thoughtful “I’m Lucky” and turns “The Weakness In Me” into a moving confession of love. A special treat are the reggae tracks “Romancers” and “I Can’t Lie To Myself” (the latter featuring the legendary Sly and Robbie on drums and bass). As usual, Armatrading’s lyrics are acutely introspective and tinged with self-deprecating humor. A well-picked cast of session players make the album’s tracks jump — Thomas Dolby’s quirky keyboard riffs and bassist Tony Levin’s tough-yet-supple bass lines are especially tasty. Walk Under Ladders could easily have been another example of a folk-rooted artist losing her way amidst the harder sounds of the early ‘80s. Instead, Armatrading turned this excursion into a triumph.

EDITORS’ NOTES

An awful lot of ‘70s-era singer/songwriters tried to ride the New Wave — but few pulled it off with as much grace as Joan Armatrading did on Walk Under Ladders (1981). Producer Steve Lillywhite surrounded her with throbbing synthesizers, abrasive guitars and squealing saxophones while retaining her innate soul and sensitivity. Joan seems energized by the fresh sounds, zestfully applying her deep-toned vocals to upbeat tracks like “When I Get It Right,””I Wanna Hold You” and “At The Hop.” She coolly glides through the thoughtful “I’m Lucky” and turns “The Weakness In Me” into a moving confession of love. A special treat are the reggae tracks “Romancers” and “I Can’t Lie To Myself” (the latter featuring the legendary Sly and Robbie on drums and bass). As usual, Armatrading’s lyrics are acutely introspective and tinged with self-deprecating humor. A well-picked cast of session players make the album’s tracks jump — Thomas Dolby’s quirky keyboard riffs and bassist Tony Levin’s tough-yet-supple bass lines are especially tasty. Walk Under Ladders could easily have been another example of a folk-rooted artist losing her way amidst the harder sounds of the early ‘80s. Instead, Armatrading turned this excursion into a triumph.

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About Joan Armatrading

Born in 1950 on the island of St. Kitts, Joan Armatrading was her country's -- as well as Britain's -- first female to gain international success as a singer/songwriter. Spicing her take on folk with elements of rock, blues, and jazz, she has had a remarkably long, consistent career. Armatrading immigrated to England in 1958 and began writing songs six years later. In 1970, she met lyricist Pam Nestor, and the two began collaborating on material later featured on Armatrading's 1972 debut, Whatever's for Us. The two ended their partnership afterward, and Armatrading resurfaced in 1975 with Back to the Night. Featuring former members of Fairport Convention, 1976's Joan Armatrading catapulted the singer into the U.K. Top 20 and produced her only Top Ten single, "Love and Affection." Armatrading's subsequent albums sold well in the U.K. to her newly established fan base but only respectably in the U.S., where it took her until 1980 to have a real hit (the all-electric Me Myself I). The Key also did quite well, but Armatrading remained largely a cult artist with a devoted following in America, never quite achieving the stardom she had in Britain.

Armatrading has been successful enough to tour and record regularly into the new millennium. She released Lovers Speak on the Denon label in 2003, followed by the concert album Live: All the Way from America a year later on Savoy. Her all-blues project, Into the Blues, arrived on 429 in 2007. The first in a trilogy of genre-specific albums, it debuted at number one on Billboard's Blues Albums chart (a first for a U.K. female artist) and gained a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. A rollicking, electrified album titled This Charming Life served as the rock component of her genre trilogy, arriving early in 2010. It was followed in 2013 by a jazz album, Starlight, a set of all originals which reflected Armatrading's range in songwriting as well as musicianship. ~ Steve Huey

  • ORIGIN
    Basseterre, St. Kitts
  • BORN
    December 9, 1950

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