Joan Armatrading

Joan Armatrading Live: All the Way from America [DVD]

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    6
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Although this stripped-down (just Armatrading and a talented two-piece) performance is excellent, the seemingly low-budget video shoot is often frustrating. Alternating between smooth shots and jerky, hand-held, willfully amateurish work that jiggles the camera as it tries to center the subject, the end effect pays no compliments to, and often detracts from, the artist's classy folk-soul-pop. All of this is strange, especially since Armatrading is credited as producer, director, and editor of the finished product. Musically, the 5.1 mix is clean and unobtrusive -- as is the mostly unseen audience -- although most of the sound emanates from the front speakers with very little activity on the rear surrounds. Like its companion album, this is from a single show and boasts no overdubs, an anomaly in concert DVDs that are often heavily sweetened in post-production. The DVD adds five more performances, maxing out at 21 songs with "Bottom to the Top" as an audio-only bonus and a video for "In These Times," a mediocre track from her Lovers Speak album, as extras. The show features a whopping nine tunes from that release, which means many of Armatrading's biggest hits, such as "Show Some Emotion," "I'm Lucky," and "Drop the Pilot," are MIA. Still, what is here is first-rate. The singer/songwriter is in sumptuous voice and the bass-less (the low parts are played on foot pedals by the keyboardist) two-piece band fleshes out the songs wonderfully. There can't be many drummers who play a mean sax and flute, but Gary Foote perfectly fills that spot. Armatrading doesn't talk much to the audience, yet seems in good spirits. However, the abrupt fade-outs between songs impede the flow of the show and make this video seem more sloppily edited than necessary. A brief tour journal isn't particularly revealing, either, leaving this as a must-have for fans but a sometimes disappointing visual souvenir of a pretty great show for others.