Joan Armatrading

Live at the Royal Albert Hall

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Joan Armatrading's 2010 album, This Charming Life, was a critical triumph, as the mercurial singer/songwriter dove head on into rock & roll territory. It was a first. That’s said, it was only one of the stellar studio albums she issued in the 21st century. The largely unheard masterpiece Lover’s Speak, issued on Denon, was her first self-produced, self-performed effort that created the template followed on This Charming Life. That album is among the most searing meditations on love from all sides we have in the pop music canon. 2009’s Into the Blues was just that; her first-ever foray into the genre. She proved not only familiar with it, but that she could flourish in it, as well. Which brings us to Live at Royal Albert Hall, a double-disc CD/DVD package recorded at the prestigious London venue as part of the sold-out world tour supporting This Charming Life. It took her through North America, Europe, and the U.K. Backed by bassist John Giblin, drummer and saxophonist Gary Foote, and keyboardist Spencer Cozens. The CD contains 15 tracks from the gig, and the DVD the entire concert with the full 21-song performance. Armatrading standbys like the opener “Show Some Emotion,” “Love and Affection,” and the still provocative “(I Love It When) You Call Me Names” are given tweaked arrangements to fit this tight four-piece setting. Armatrading’s guitar playing has never been more agile or visceral. The funk rock stomp that is “Heading Back to New York City” goes pretty far in establishing her as a virtuoso. More recent songs, such as the anthemic “Two Tears,” the forceful waltz “Promises,” the soulful, stinging 12-bar “Into the Blues,” and “My Baby’s Gone” are simply electrifying. Armatrading’s trademark understated passion is given full flower. Check “You Rope Me, You Tie Me,” and “Me Myself, I,” originally on Steppin’ Out: The former is a straight-up rocker, the latter a souled-out R&B number with a funky backbeat, which both underscore that despite modified arrangements, Armatrading's emotional depth and unique vocal phrasing wring even more emotion from her songs in a live setting. The DVD was recorded in a four r-camera shoot and captures the concert -- and two performances from Denver -- in brilliant video and audio. Live at Royal Albert Hall is not only the most electrifying live album in Armatrading’s long career, it is one of the most satisfying entries in it, period.

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