Joan Armatrading - Walk Under Ladders

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Walk Under Ladders cover As is the case with several of these 10 albums, this is the most consistent album by one of my favorite artists. Though there are individual songs I like better on Back to the Night and To the Limit, I think Walk Under Ladders is more a more consistent album than either of those.

The first time I saw Joan Armatrading perform, I had never heard anything by her before. My brother in law Bill and I saw her at Perkins Palace and I was totally hooked. Two songs in particular stuck with me after the concert: You Rope, You Tie Me (from To The Limit) and Eating the Bear from this album. I've seen her many times since, and she opened many of those concerts with I'm Lucky, which also opens this album.

picture of Joan This album does a good job of showing off Joan's range, from the new wave opener through the rasta-rock feel of When I Get It Right, Romancers, and I Can't Lie to Myself to the bluesey folk taste of songs like The Weakness in Me and No Love and the straight anthem rock of I Wanna Hold You and Eating the Bear. Joan carries off all of these genres well and enthusiastically.

Of course that range wouldn't be possible with just any band, and the band Joan plays with on this album is impeccable. Joan plays some acoustic guitars and does all the lead vocals, of course. The rhythm section throughout the album is Jerry Marotta on drums and Tony Levin on bass. If those names sound familiar, it's because you've also heard those guys play (separately or together) on albums by Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Jules Shear, Indigo Girls, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Tom Waits, and hundreds of other artists. Their talents shine on this album, particularly on the ballads (listen to Tony Levin's expression in The Weakness in Me for example).

image from back cover of Walk Under Ladders The new wave feel of some of the songs on the album comes from the fact that Thomas Dolby plays keyboards on most of it and Gary Sanford (of the Joe Jackson Band), and Andy Partridge (of XTC) play guitars on many of the songs. Throw in some percussion by Ray Cooper (of Elton John's band) some keyboards by Nick Plytas, and some guitars by Hugh Burns, and they make a formidable team.

And of course there's the songs. As with her previous albums, most of the songs are love songs, with a range of shades of emotion depicted. There's some playfulness:

Struck it rich,
dirty rich,
no work and get richer,
and the world loves a winner,
yes I'm so happy that you're happy with me

a little bit of shame:

Why do you come here,
when you know I've got troubles enough?
Why do you call me when you know I can't answer the phone?
Are you so strong, or is all the weakness in me?

some sarcasm:

It's so coincidental,
you reaching out to me,
when I've got all this money
and you're footloose and fancy free.

The only three songs that don't seem to be about love are When I Get it Right, At the Hop, and Eating the Bear, and I may be wrong about two of the three of those. :-)

All in all, this is an excellent album filled with catchy songs, interesting lyrics, stellar musicianship that I can't help but tap my foot and sing along with. If you're interested, you can listen to samples of some of the songs here. If you really like it, you can even buy it there.

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