Joan Armatrading | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Joan Armatrading 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

I wonder why Joan Armatrading has never titled one of her albums Smoke and Mirrors. That phrase neatly captures the specifics of what she does: she uses the billowing smoke of her voice to convey her often remarkable songs, which so accurately mirror a wide range of emotional states. But it also describes the shifty magic she wields, creating powerful statements from deceptive wisps of melody and verbiage. (Credit her songwriter's instincts: from the time she gravitated to music, as a British teenager of Caribbean heritage, Armatrading has thought of herself first and foremost as a composer.) Armatrading's hearty new album, What's Inside (BMG), contains a half dozen memorable examples, each benefiting from the uncanny synergy between the songs she writes and the voice she sings them in. You hear it on the opening track, "In Your Eyes"; its two-note hook begins with an octave leap, and I doubt it would work so well if not for the partial hiccup she imparts to the high note. On another song she reaches back for a hint of reggae to sing, "It comes all shapes and sizes / It's something you can never buy. / Don't wait until it's over ... / Obituary columns are filled with love," and the island lilt stops her from preaching. She puts herself "Back on the Road" to bid a good-bye to "Mr. Misery" and "Mr. Sorrow"; the edge to her voice combines with the blues note in the melody to nail her self-pity to the wall. In some ways Armatrading just continues to do what made her a cult fave 20 years ago, and you won't find me complaining. It means she "just" continues to create polished, evocative, and unforgettable songs, and that she "just" continues to walk the emotional tightrope between realistic despair and essential hopefulness (without diving into the bathetic chasm stretched out at her feet). Friday, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 472-0449 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kate Gamer.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Neil Tesser

Agenda Teaser

Galleries & Museums
August 20
Performing Arts
October 02

Popular Stories