British singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading is almost unbelievably approaching her fifth musical decade. Armatrading has never been easy to categorize as she straddles the lines between blues, jazz, and several in between. She likes it that way, eager to surprise us with yet another twist or turn such that no two albums sound alike. It’s been that way since 1972 when her record company, by their own admission, had little idea how to present her. While she is a megastar in the UK, stateside she clearly remains less widely hailed. Consequences is her 22nd studio recording and is being released in phases with digital coming first on June 18 and CD/LPs to follow on August 13.
Armatrading has a distinctive, singular sound with melodic, British accent-infused vocals, a natural sense of rhythm and lyrics that are direct and well-crafted. She is a terrific songwriter, certainly underrecognized in that element of her artistry. Yet, she is the first female singer/songwriter from the UK to have international success with the songs she wrote and performed. And, recognition, long overdue has started to come. Since the release of her 2018 Not Too Far Away Armatrading has been made a CBE (From an MBE), become a Trustee of the Prince’s Trust, been awarded an Ivor Novello Fellowship, and received an American Lifetime Achievement Award plus a Lifetime Achievement Award from Women of the Year. We could continue for paragraphs but let’s get to the music.
You may have already heard the single, “Already There,” where her opening verse captures the bliss of love as succinctly and directly as any lyrics on the subject – “You just told me you loved me/For the very first time/And it feels like I’m flying/And the sky is all mine/I’m floating on air/Let me tell you my secret/I’ve never said it before/While you were falling in love/I was already there.” It is one of 10 songs in the three-minute range, all of which have her unusual combination of pop/blues/jazz beginning with the pop-flavored “Natural Rhythm,” which has some strains from another of her favorite places, South Africa in its repetitive chorus and infectious beat. Aside from the choruses in “To Be Loved” we hear echoes of Armatrading’s huge hit, “Love and Affection” and at times a kind of modern-day Nina Simone.
Armatrading is singing about the subject most often covered in song, love, but this is not an autobiographical effort. Instead, it is written from observation and from the point of view of someone who wants to pass on life’s lessons in a series of universally relatable songs. We hear such encouragement in “Better Life” as Armatrading more than once sings, “Be Happy.” Interestingly, for one who can stand with many lauded guitar heroes on that instrument, the axe takes a back seat to these songs. Grand piano chords punctuate “Glorious Madness” (“most times you wanted to go faster”) for example. Several voices imbue the singalong wordplay in “Like” (“I never wanted anybody to else to like, to like like you”). The title track, the lengthiest at close to five minutes, begins with a mysterious atmospheric backdrop unlike any of the tracks preceding it before breaking into a rhythmic groove, propelled by insistent drum beats.
“Sunrise” is a smooth-flowing instrumental where we get a small taste of guitar work. “Think About Me” chugs along with an infectious, pop melody while the closer, “To Anyone Who Will Listen,” is more reflective and ballad-like. Throughout, as we’ve come to expect, Armatrading sings fervently and delivers a batch of songs that at first listen, seem fairly simple, but echo with a bit more intensity each time.