It was an unusually long time before A&M released a second album from Joan Armatrading
, Back to the Night
. Produced by Vinegar Joe guitarist Pete Gage (and featuring that band's Steve York on bass), the record is something of a transitional work between the singer/songwriter folk of her first album and the warmer melodies of her breakthrough eponymous effort. While it's not a markedly better record than Whatever's for Us
, there are some appreciable differences. Most of the songs are written by Armatrading
herself -- only two are carryovers from her collaboration with lyricist Pam Nestor -- which places the emphasis on matters of the heart. And it's on this record that glimpses of the greatness to come appear: the upbeat island feel of "Travel So Far," the powerfully intimate "Dry Land," and the inventive melodies of the title track. The Joni Mitchell comparisons still hold, but here Armatrading
leans toward the jazzier side of that artist on tracks like "Come When You Need Me" and "Cool Blue Stole My Heart." Unlike her last producer, Pete Gage allows more of Ms. Armatrading to shine through. The backing musicians are again an accomplished lot, including members of Cat Stevens' band and a pre-Police Andy Summers, but there are no precious string arrangements. While this often gets lumped together with her last record, Back to the Night
is a better bet to please fans of her subsequent work, though fans who pass on both won't be missing any essential hits.