Saturday, 10 June 2017

"To The Limit" by JOAN ARMATRADING (April 2016 Music On CD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...In Your Loving Arms Again..."

Brummie lass Joan Armatrading (born in the West Indies but moved to the UK when she was 8) had been building a steady stream of classy British LP releases by the time she reached "To The Limit" in October 1978 - her sixth platter.

After her November 1972 debut "Whatever’s For Us" on Fly Records went largely unnoticed - her UK signing to A&M Records brought "Back To The Night" in April 1975 – an equally unsuccessful chart attempt but the first real indication of the monumental talent that would eventually unleash "Joan Armatrading" in August 1976 with the huge global hit "Love And Affection". That chart breakthrough was followed with the equally lovely "Show Some Emotion" album in September 1977 featuring the title track and "Willow".

I recall "To The Limit" at the time - the kind of album that bubbled under in 1978 rather than exploded. In fact since the tectonic impact of "Joan Armatrading" in late 1976 - it had seemed she was on a visible downward slide. "To The Limit" peaked at a respectable No. 13 in the UK - less than "Show Some Emotion" at No. 6 - but tellingly it stalled at No. 125 in the USA after it entered the charts there in November 1978. This feels like a shame to me because I've always thought "To The Limit" to be a wee bit of an overlooked gem in her long and impressive catalogue.

And that's where this 'Music On CD' reissue comes stomping in. As far as I recall the last remaster of the whole album was 2004 (quickly deleted) with some of the songs turning up on the 1996 "Love And Affection" 2CD anthology that had Roger Wake Remasters. The album has been notoriously difficult to find on CD at anything other than exorbitant prices – so this rather tasty looking reissue is a godsend for fans and the plain curious. And it sounds utterly fantastic too. Here are the unlimited details...

UK released April 2016 - "To The Limit" by JOAN ARMATRADING on Music On CD MOCCD13291 (Barcode 0600753605165) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of the 10-track 1978 LP that plays out as follows (41:20 minutes):

1. Barefoot And Pregnant [Side 1]
2. Your Letter
3. Am I Blue For You
4. You Rope You Tie Me
5. Baby I
6. Bottom To The Top [Side 2]
7. Taking My Baby To Town
8. What Do You Want
9. Wishing
10. Let It Last
Tracks 1 to 10 are her sixth studio album "To The Limit" - released October 1978 in the UK on A&M Records AMLH 64732 and November 1978 in the USA on A&M Records SP-4732. Produced by GLYN JOHNS - it peaked at No. 13 in the UK and No. 123 in the USA.

JOAN ARMATRADING - Lead Vocals and Acoustic Guitar
PHIL PALMER - Lead Electric Guitar
DICK SIMMS - Organ & Accordion

The 'Music On CD' label is a bit of a strange one. They started out as I recall being 'Music On Vinyl' - the go-to reissue label for all of the Sony product on VINYL - quality 180-gram represses with remasters. But in 2014 the Europe-Pressed CD label began reissuing albums from a huge array of labels and now have over 220 titles in their canon (most are under the Universal umbrella of labels). All their releases come in those natty-looking rounded-corner 'super jewel cases' and for "To The Limit" you also get an 8-page booklet that essentially reproduces the inner sleeve of the 1978 LP - lyrics to the songs - a couple of photos and musician credits - but nothing else - no new liner notes nor any mention of mastering and from what. Credit or no - the audio on this CD is truly glorious - Glyn Johns' original production values shining through - "What Do You Want" sounding audiophile good and stupendously moving for it. 

While the compilations always go for the catchy jaunt of "Barefoot And Pregnant" and the hip Reggae rhythms of "Bottom To The Top" – the hidden album gems of "Baby I" and "What Do You Want" are fantastic songs – full of truth and yes – hurting – a relationship on the rocks – slipping away – even lost. Throw in the sexy acoustic guitar and strangulated synth soloing of "Am I Blue For You", the deceptive groove of “Wishing” and the "Love And Affection" acoustic vibe of "Let It Last" bolstered up with gorgeous accordion and piano notes that compliment rather than intrude as it builds towards a triumphant conclusion (let it last until we die) – and the whole record starts to feel like an overlooked nugget. "To The Limit" is not a masterpiece - but it is chock-full of great songs that still stand up and crucially still get to you.

She would go slightly pop with "Me Myself I" in May 1980 - an album that would storm up No. 5 in the UK and return her to the radio and real chart success Stateside (it peaked at No. 28 – her best showing their). But for many her trio of "Joan Armatrading", "Show Some Emotion" and "To The Limit" from 1976, 1977 and 1978 represent an artistic and emotional high that stings, swoons and ultimately elevates.

I'm off now to check out the first "Outlaws" album (originally 1975 on Arista) and "Blood, Sweat & Tears 3" (originally 1969 and 1970 on Columbia and CBS Records) - both of which have been recently reissued by Music On CD with Remasters.

In the meantime go back in time forty years to 1978 again and take this excellent Joan Armatrading album back 'in your loving arms again'...   

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