Celebrated British singer, songwriter and guitarist Joan Armatrading made a three-night stand in Chicago during 2015. In a career spanning 46 years, however, she hasn’t been a frequent presence in town. In light of that, one night at City Winery seems like a gift. Five nights at the venue is an embarrassment of riches for local fans of her warm, husky alto, evocative guitar and piano styles, and insightful songwriting.
With singles including the jazz-folk study of rejection “Down to Zero,” Armatrading broke out in the mid-’70s as one of the first female artists from England to achieve international acclaim. She won chart success in North America for albums including 1983’s “The Key” with single “Drop the Pilot” and 1986’s “Sleight of Hand” with the tough love of the Prince-like “Kind Words (And A Real Good Heart),” although widespread commercial conquest remained elusive. Nonetheless, steady work, top musicianship and consistently relatable songs have earned a multigenerational fan base comprised of truly devoted listeners. Along the way, Armatrading’s influence has rippled through other top-selling and critically acclaimed artists including Melissa Etheridge and Tracy Chapman.
2007 album “Into the Blues” found Armatrading trailblazing again, as the first English woman to score a #1 album on Billboard’s Blues chart.
At 67, Armatrading has released “Not Too Far Away” – her 21st album. The new collection finds her percussive but fluid fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing in beautiful form, serving songs that place fresh perspective on familiar themes of longing, isolation, and desire, contrasted with love and joy. Crumbled hopes and the sting of rejection fuel “Cover My Eyes,” recalling the sweet sadness of “Down to Zero.” The singer builds strength from emotional wounds in the piano anthem “No More Pain.” In a brighter moment, “I Like it When We’re Together” describes the contentment of domestic commitment. The song echoes the warm sentiment of 2010’s “This Charming Life.”
Other meditations on matters of the heart like the album’s title cut draw threads backward to classics like 1976’s “Love and Affection.” Any man or woman with a pulse would swoon to be the subject of percolating new song “Loving What You Hate,” through which Armatrading cherishes the hidden flaws that make her lover wholly unique. Armatrading’s will perform many of these songs during her week of solo shows at City Winery. Expect the intimate presentation of Armatrading’s unique mastery to maximize the heart-to-heart emotional connection between artist and audience.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.