Joan Armatrading

Whatever's for Us

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Joan Armatrading's debut album is all but co-credited to Pam Nestor, who co-wrote 11 of the 14 songs and whose picture and bio appear on the album jacket. (She doesn't perform on the record, however.) Since Armatrading dispensed with the collaboration on later albums, a comparison is instructive. On these relatively short songs (averaging about 2:45), Armatrading is more outward-looking than on her later songs. Much of her work is done in close-ups, but many of the songs on Whatever's for Us pull back from the "I-you" focus of subsequent efforts to take in the family, especially, and the world at large. Granted, neither is viewed positively, at least in the formal sense. The title character in "Head of the Table" is "stern and strong," although the less traditional grouping in "My Family" is viewed more benevolently. The world in general, meanwhile, is "semi-mad" ("Mean Old Man") and contains "such a lot of pretense" ("City Girl"). In this context, the best the singer can do is to be wary in looking for love. For the album, Armatrading used some of Elton John's brain trust, including producer Gus Dudgeon, guitarist Davey Johnstone, and percussionist Ray Cooper, and especially when she plays piano, the resulting sound is not unlike an early John album such as Tumbleweed Connection, albeit with Armatrading's choked alto in place of John's husky tenor. Dudgeon adds occasional string and horn charts, but wisely keeps the focus on the singer and her songs. Whatever's for Us is a promising debut that, nevertheless, does not include any material that has proven to be memorable.

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