Cube 1972 / Esoteric 2015
Oft-overlooked, if not too humble, beginning of one of the finest British musical talents.
The many colors of its cover can’t conceal the state of the artist – not the painter but the performer and songwriter able to create fabulous pictures, too – behind this album: an observer from the off, Joan Armatrading’s debut finds her measuring the distance between the intimate and the domain of dreams. Wrapped in sympathetic Gus Dudgeon production, the singer’s vocals achieve the warm intensity of Sandy Denny on the orchestra-drenched “It Could Have Been Better” but it takes Joan less than two minutes to land on a unique voice of her own in “Visionary Mountains” that Manfred Mann would unfold into a fantastic tapestry, while Armatrading’s ethereal original has the piece’s magic condensed.
Though her melodies and arrangements suggest folk influence, it’s an urban kind of it, as outlined by the brass tinsel of the “Mean Old Man” blues or the vantage point proposition of “City Girl” which the singer wrote about Pam Nestor, her poetic collaborator on most of these compositions, so a shade of alienation creeps occasionally in “Mister Remember Me” and other tuneful tales. There’s Nina Simone’s elegant vigor in “My Family” where Joan’s stately piano chords and harmonium purr are offset by Davey Johnstone’s acoustic strum, yet if the swirl of “Alice” marries reverie to reality, “Child Star” comes off too theatrical despite all its energy. The artist’s playfulness, always lurking behind the scenes, takes a frontal position on the electric charge of “Lonely Lady,” a 1973 single side added as a bonus to this reissue alongside “Together In Words And Music” – a perfect summation of “Whatever’s For Us” that remains a snapshot of Joan Armatrading’s fleeting innocence and precursor to her songs of experience.