Joan Armatrading

Steppin' Out

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Steppin' Out, released in the United Kingdom in 1979, was not initially issued in the U.S. While Joan Armatrading was enjoying success in the States on A&M (where she debuted in 1974) she didn't sell enough recordings to justify a live album. There are nine songs in the program beginning with a rocking "Mama Mercy," featuring a killer alto saxophone solo by Earl Lon Price doing his best Tom Scott. Armatrading's band is led by the incomparable guitarist Ricky Hirsch and drummer Richard Hayward (Little Feat); other members include keyboardist Red Young and bassist Bill Bodine. From here, "Cool Blue Stole My Heart," showcases the jazzy side of Armatrading's Caribbean folk-soul. She digs deep with her audience and seems to draw from them, especially on cuts such as "Love and Affection" and the title track. This is a professionally paced and played set, but there are wonderfully detailed raw moments where the singer allows her voice to crack, the beat becomes fluid rather than fixed, and the band's inner dialogue seems symbiotic. And Armatrading can really rock, as evidenced by "You Rope You Tie Me." The set closer, "Tall in the Saddle," walks through the blues, the jazz vocal tradition and finally rock as the tension and dynamic of the track build to an ecstatic and exhausted close. The American CD edition of the album issued in 2006 is reported to be a limited edition.

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