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Record Review

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In the eight years since releasing her last album, Joan Armatrading went back to school to receive a bachelor's degree in history (from Open University, based in the U.K., from which she graduated in 2001) and composed a song, "Messenger," for the special tribute given her idol, Nelson Mandela, by the British government in 2000. Combine that with the recent political upheaval in the world, and it would be a no-brainer to think that her new CD -- with the 52-year-old Armatrading producing, writing, arranging and playing most of the instruments -- would have a political bent.

Wrong. Armatrading has always chosen the personal over the political. It's an approach that has worked for 30 years, and she is not going to stray from it now. She has finally outgrown her desire to overuse the techno-pop sound that marred some of her albums from the late '80s and early '90s. Here, her sound is rich and full, and her imagery is as gorgeous as ever. While many of her lyrics on the printed page may look like so many cliches strung together (or, in the case of "Prove Yourself" pabulum the likes of which Up With People would sing), once she adds her honeyed alto vocals and her gentle guitar, they feel sincere, as if she were the first person to ever experience love or rejection.

-- Al Kaufman


Joan Armatrading plays the Atlanta Botanical Garden Wed., June 4.

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