[Review] Joan Armatrading: Back To The Night (1975)

Joan loses a lyricist and gains some confidence on her major-label debut.

Kronomyth 2.0: Back to the drawing board.

Joan Armatrading’s second album is a stronger effort than her first, in more ways a harbinger of the good things to come on her breakthrough third album. While nothing on Back To The Night is as powerful as “Down To Zero” or “Love And Affection,” there are a few near misses including “Back To The Night” and “Dry Land,” both of which were released as singles.

Where her first album felt precious, producer Pete Gage favors flesh-and-blood arrangements that allow Joan’s raw energy and emotion to shine through. The Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens comparisons still hold, as the music shifts from piano/guitar confessionals (“Come When You Need Me,” “No Love For Free”) to pleasantly oblique pop melodies (“So Good,” “Travel So Far”). The backing band is completely new, a technique that has kept Joan’s music fresh over the years. On this record, you’ll hear tabla, Moog, double bass and other exotic sounds that you wouldn’t encounter on later albums.

Now, a significant amount of time had passed since the release of Whatever’s For Us, and in some ways Back To The Night is a re-introduction. The Joan Armatrading here is a complete songwriter and a distinctive artist with a confident voice. She’s willing to talk about being hurt (“Cool Blue Stole My Heart”), letting go (“Steppin’ Out”) and even finding God (“Get In Touch With Jesus”), although it’s unclear whether Joan is being autobiographical or simply personal with her subject matter. What is clear is that Joan wouldn’t need to suffer comparisons for long.

This album is her stepping out party, just as her eponymous third album would be her step up to the big leagues. Oh, and if you care about these kinds of things, that really is a pre-Police Andy Summers—credited here as Sommers, which is a hybrid of his real name (Somers) and stage name (Summers)—playing lead guitar on the serendipitous “Steppin’ Out.”

Original elpee version

A1. No Love For Free (3:31)
A2. Travel So Far (3:07)
A3. Steppin’ Out (3:57)
A4. Dry Land (Joan Armatrading/Pam Nestor) (4:19)
A5. Cool Blue Stole My Heart (5:29)
B1. Get In Touch With Jesus (3:38)
B2. Body To Dust (4:14)
B3. Back To The Night (4:04)
B4. So Good (3:27)
B5. Let’s Go Dancing (2:03)
B6. Come When You Need Me (Joan Armatrading/Pam Nestor) (3:44)

All songs written by Joan Armatrading unless noted. Arrangements by Joan Armatrading & Pete Gage.

The Players

Joan Armatrading (vocals, guitar, 12-string guitar, rhythm guitar, piano, acoustic guitar), Pete Gage (guitars, Moog, electric guitar, percussion effects), Jean Roussel (piano, organ, keyboards, Moog) with Dave Brooks (tenor sax on B4), Tony Carr (drums, percussion effects), Phil Chen (bass guitar), Gerry Conway (percussion effects on B6), John Halsey (drums), Bernie Holland (guitar on A3), Chris Kerran (tablas on B4), Gasper Lawall (congas, afro percussion), Ron Matheson (double bass), Tony Newman (drums), Colin Pincott (guitar on B3), Shamsi Sarumi (afro percussion, percussion), Andy Sommers (Summers) (guitar on A3), Steve York (bass guitar, harmonica). Produced by Pete Gage; engineered by Phil Ault, Robin Black, Phil Brown; re-mix engineered by Phil Brown.

The Pictures

Photography by Clive Arrowsmith. Art direction by Fabio Nicoli.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in April 1975 in the UK and the Netherlands (A&M, AMLH 68305), the US (A&M, SP 4525) and Australia (A&M, L36072) with lyrics innersleeve.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1981 in the US (A&M, SP/CS-3141) and Germany (A&M, 393 141-1).
  2. Re-issued on cassette in Canada (A&M, CS-69814).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the Netherlands (A&M, AMNP 110) with lyrics innersleeve.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in the UK (A&M, AMID-112).
  5. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1984 in the UK (Hallmark, SHM/HSC 3153).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (A&M, CD 3141).

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