A dip into BBC Radio 2 will tell you just how influential Joan Armatrading’s soul-folk singer-songwriter style has been. Amy McDonald and Rebecca Ferguson, to name but two, are followers in her 40-year footsteps.
Yet whether it’s a desire to be different or (judging by the lyrics) a late-in-life love affair that’s turned her head, Armatrading seems determined to break the mould with Starlight. Having recently followed a blues direction, she now chooses jazz – which is all well and good, but conventional song structures take a back seat the songwriter scat-sings and even raps. There’s a free-form Van Morrison vibe that sees her float over the backing music, but rarely sting. Always On My Mind is typical in that it builds promisingly, but fails to deliver the anticipated hook. Things gel more towards the end with title track, while the emotional content of sublime final song Summer Kisses suggests that Armatrading’s heart has had a battering – but she’ll rise again.
Joan will be headlining Cambridge and Cropredy this summer, proving that, at 61, there’s life in her yet. While it’s difficult to imagine many of these songs having the same attraction as her more structured anthems, props are due for her refusal to re-tread old ground.