Despite well-deserved critical respect and a fervent cult following, Joan Armatrading has never had more than a smattering of commercial success. However, she had amassed quite a catalog of worthy material by the time Classics, Vol. 21 was released in 1987. Armatrading is blessed with a warm, expressive voice and writes sophisticated, intelligent lyrics. Classics, Vol. 21 does a very good job of offering a sampling of her work and the album highlights her musical diversity. "Show Some Emotion" is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and the gorgeous "The Weakness in Me" reveals why Tracy Chapman would be compared, musically and vocally, to Armatrading. "Rosie" has an island lilt to it, while "I'm Lucky" has a menacing, synthesized feel. Two early songs that found favor on video outlets in the early '80s are the new wave rockers "Drop the Pilot" and the wickedly fun "(I Love It When You) Call Me Names." However, Armatrading is at her finest on the gentle folk ballad "Whatever's for Us, for Us," the chiming "All the Way From America," and the dramatic, love-struck "Heaven."
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Review by Tom Demalon