This isn’t a jazz album, anymore than Joan Armatrading’s 2007 UK charttopper Into The Blues was about something so simple as the blues. She’s always had a roving eye, a restless muse. So Starlight is, but it also isn’t, jazz.
Her lyrics, angular, fizzy and typically confessional, certainly point you in that direction, but as with each of her more recent projects, Armatrading plays all of the instruments — save for drums, which she programs with an idiosyncratic verve. They are sometimes strangely busy, often weirdly off-kilter. This gives the album more of a found-art avant-pop sensibility, and in that way recalls almost nothing that she’s done before.
Once again on Starlight, due February 26, 2013 from 429 Records, the only thing conventional about Joan Armatrading is her very unconventionality.
Songs like “Single Life” and “Tell Me” whipsaw around, as her deeply emotional vocal skitters over the top of a cacophony of rhythmic utterances. “Close to Me” and “Busy With You” certainly swing with authority, but Armatrading mixes them with “Back on Track” and “I Want That Love” — both of which sound like lost MTV-era demos. “Summer Kisses” seems destined to become a dark rumination before surging into an anthematic plea. Even “The Way I Think of You,” a solo showcase, is an idiosyncratic wonder, as if Armatrading is speaking the words just as they come to mind.
One quibble: Not nearly enough of Armatrading’s distinctive, deeply underrated guitar, apart from “Tell Me.” Otherwise, a highly recommended, typically offbeat, sophisticated yet earthy addition to a career filled with them.