THE ALBUM -- Joan Armatrading, "Me Myself I," A&M Records (SP 4809).; THE SHOW -- At the Kennedy Center, July 28 at 7:30.
Joan Armatrading stands apart from the mellow women folk-rockers on one hand and the shrill rowdy-rockers on the other. The black Englishwoman, by way of the West Indies, weaves island funk together with wry humor and honest emotion in spiffy original compositions. Her gut feelings are conveyed in a deep voice and set to strong beats, under a collage of jazz-blues-reggae-rock influences.
In all, Armatrading's rich sound is fleshed out on her fifth and latest album, 'Me Myself." And at the Kennedy Center on Monday, she's bound to show some emotion in concert.
The new album's title track, a declaration of the positive side of aloneness, is a thumping, stinging piece that flows into a smooth organ and piano chorus, Joan draws on an incredible vocal range as well as hip lyrical insights to put across the pleasures of being solo: It's not that I love myself I just don't want company Except Me Myself I
Although she considers herself a songwriter first, her animated vocals and 12-string acoustic guitar-playing also merit applause. Her Carribbean roots surface on a raggae-tinted number like "Ma-Me-O-Beach," where her voice triumphs as the most powerful instrument, and on "Feeling In My Heart (For You)," with electric guitar ripples and a distinct, lazy backbeat.
Even before her successful "Show Some Emotion," Armatrading had been urging listeners to let go: light up if you're happy and if it's bad let those tears roll down. Her earlier lp's, notably "Joan Armatrading," likewise explored romantic ups and downs in moving and straightforward terms. On "Me Myself I" the balance tilts toward happiness. One of the best cuts, "Is It Tomorrow Yet?" is an upbeat, expectant song with a bubbly bass and a near-disco beat. The bright melody is accented by her yelps and quirky vocal stylings, asking, "Is it tomorrow yet?I've got to look my best/-For my baby." Elsewhere she shows off her devotion in a sincere way: "I may look over my shoulder/But I will never leave your side. "Never sappy, always playful.
Only a couple of tracks suffer from a lack of clear melodic lines. "Simon" is a heavy-handed account of a man in love with his brother's woman. But Clarence Clemons' racy saxophone saves the cut from an overwhelming beat and confusing wordiness.
Long underexposed on the rock star roster, Armatrading has turned out a full-textured production (with producer Richard Gottehrer) that should carry her to wider public acclaim. Otherwise, her dry wit and lush voice will remain a secret for appreciative fans.