Saturday, 26 May 2018

Joan Armatrading - Walk Under Ladders (1981)



  

Released September 1981

Recorded at The Town House, London

Following on from the success of "Me Myself I", this Steve Lillywhite-produce album employed, at times, a somewhat stripped back, synthesiser-backed sound. It was quite a different product to, say, 1976's "Joan Armatrading" album, barely an acoustic guitar around this time. It is probably Joan's rockiest album and she uses a host of well-known musicians scattered around on various tracks such as Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Mel Collins (saxophone), Thomas Dolby (synthesiser), Andy Partridge (guitar), Ray Cooper (percussion), Sly Dunbar (drums) and Rico Rodriguez (horn). Unsurprisingly, the instrumental quality is high throughout the album.

"I'm Lucky", the opener, is a stark, sparsely delivered synthesiser-backed song with a plaintive vocal and atmosphere. It works, though. There is a quiet power to the song. "When I Get It Right" has  a laid-back reggae backing to the verses gives way to a crashing, saxophone dominated belter of a chorus. A good start with these two that sets the tone of the album. "Romancers" continues it with a most appealing, summer reggae rhythm introduces this pleasant song and backs all the verses, just as on the previous track. Some melodic Rico Rodrigeuz horns back the chorus, some nice harmony vocals and another convincing lead vocal from Joan.

Now for more of a rocky sound - "I Wanna Hold You" features a "Me Myself I" guitar intro in a bit of a remake of that track, to be honest. Not that it's bad, though. An upbeat, thumping rocker. An excellent guitar solo at the end.

The sublime "The Weakness In Me" is the album's romantic cornerstone. A simply beautiful love song, sung hauntingly against an understated piano and bass backing. One of Joan's best ever vocals - deep, yearning and moving. "No Love" is possibly the best upbeat track on the album, though. A solo electric guitar introduces the slow, mournful build up into the chorus with its great line - "if I had no love to give I wouldn't give it to you" - and a soaring saxophone from Mel Collins. Wonderful track.

"At The Hop" sees a slice of reggae/funk, with a few tiny hints of dub reggae in places, under the surfaces, as if there is such a thing. It just sort of drifts along, though, without ever really getting anywhere. A bit of storming guitar work at the half way point though. Listening to it again, though, it does tend to grown on you. The reggae groove continues, "I Can't Lie To Myself" has some convincing, authentic reggae rhythms from Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Another track that gets into your system, given time. Joan is capable of adapting her vocal to whatever backing she is given. Here it seems the perfect fit for this summery reggae number. She even puts a bit of falsetto into the chorus. "Eating The Bear" is perhaps the "filler" track on the album. A pounding mid-pace rocker over a frantic reggae guitar with lyrics that claim "some days the bear will eat you, some days you eat the bear". Again, though, the chorus tends to stick in the mind.

With "Only One", as the album had started, it also ends with a sombre, somewhat bleak synthesiser-backed mournfully-delivered song. While the opener had the optimistic "I'm Lucky" theme, this was a laid-back song of devotion to a lover. A smoky, low key end to a good, but never truly outstanding album.

BONUS TRACKS

"Shine" - an upbeat, guitar and cowbell riffy rocker. Nothing particularly special about it but it is probably the equal of "Eating The Bear". "Dollars" - again, some convincing rock guitar and rock vocal from Joan on this competent chugger. A few skanking reggae guitars in the background in places. "Crying" - now, this is definitely the one that should, undoubtedly have either replaced "Eating The Bear" or been aded to the album. An alluring mid-pace reggae rhythm and a seductive organ backing together with a great vocal from Joan. A nice romantic number, my only criticism of which would be that it just fades out to soon, just as I am getting into the groove.

C+


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