Joan Armatrading’s new album, This Charming Life was recorded all but solo, with Armatrading playing every instrument except the drums. Like Into the Blues, her Grammy-nominated 2007 disc, Life focuses on a single genre: guitar-driven rock. For those who have not been following the extraordinary and multifaceted career of this master songwriter, she’s done a lot since “Love and Affection,” her 1976 radio hit, and little of it has been acoustic pop. Armatrading, that rare artist who exclusively plays her own material, always sounds recognizably like herself, but on Life, she also sounds, to these ears at least, like a young, Dirty Mind-era Prince. It’s exciting to hear rock music this raw and vibrant filtered through the sensibility of such an articulate and experienced songwriter. Case in point: On “Heading Back to New York City,” Armatrading name-checks ABC No Rio, a punk art and politics collective that’s been operating on the Lower East Side for 30 years. I recently caught up with Armatrading by phone in advance of her Monday-night appearance at the Lobero Theatre.
Your new album is called This Charming Life. What does that title mean to you? The title is completely sincere on my part. I believe that about my life, that it has been charmed. The way I chose the title was that I noticed that I’d written all of these songs that said, “Thank you for the life I’ve been given.” Everything I was writing for this album kept pointing me towards that feeling. I have all these wonderful people in my life, I do what I was meant to do—what could I complain about?
In terms of style, you have moved in a rock direction on this set. How did that choice come about? This tendency to focus on a single style started back with the album Lover’s Speak that I recorded in 2003. That record was done with an acoustic band, although it’s not an acoustic sound—it’s more of a rock band on acoustic instruments. I write all these songs anyway, but at a certain point, I found taking these kind of specific genres and using them to focus my work better served my efforts.
You conducted a series of interviews with great guitarists—Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt, and John Williams—for the BBC. How would you characterize your own guitar style? I like to talk about guitar playing with musicians who I respect, but when I play, I try to sound like myself. I guess when it comes to the guitar, I’ve got to be me. [Laughs.]
You recorded most of the instruments on the album yourself, but you are touring with a band. Can you tell us about them? Drummer Miles Bould has been with me for years, and the keyboard player has been with me for a while, but the bass player is new. I love to go alone into the studio, but I’m not as keen on playing by myself when I’m on the road. When I’m on the road, I want a band, and I always work with them to update the arrangements.
What can you tell your fans to expect at the show? They’ll have a great time because it’s a great show, but they will also have a chance to play with us in the “Best Dress On” League. If you go on joanarmatrading.com, you’ll see that we have a “Best Dress On” League Table there, and it gives the standings in a kind of competition that’s going on among our audiences. When they sing along with “Best Dress On,” which is a catchy number from the new record, they get a rating based on how many choruses they sing. We stop; they don’t. It’s been done now in auditoriums all over the world, and each audience has been rated, and some place gets to be number one. Right now, that’s Richmond, Virginia, where after we stopped, they sang the chorus 50 times.
Joan Armatrading plays the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) with opener Jamie McLean on Monday, August 9, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.