Picks and Pans Review: The Key
What she unlocks again, on her ninth LP, is another strongbox of songs as finely crafted as Randy Newman's and as intimate as Joni Mitchell's. Armatrading, 33, was born in St. Kitts, West Indies, which is at the root of her unique, Caribbean-tinged rock. Her mature contralto voice evokes passion, derision, playfulness, confusion, hurt or fear, depending on the demands of her eclectic repertoire. The opening cut, (I Love It When You) Call Me Names, is a funny, catchy tune about the S & M-ish relationship of a "big woman" and a "short, short man." In an attempt to at last capture the kind of commercial clout in the U.S. she already enjoys in the U.K., Armatrading also cut two ear-catching tracks with Kim Carnes' Bette Davis Eyes producer, Val Garay. Their collaboration on Drop the Pilot seems a particularly promising one. The rest of the LP's 11 original tunes were produced by Steve Lillywhite, who has also worked with the Psychedelic Furs and U2. In addition to her inspiring vocals, Armatrading also adds guitar instrumentals on seven songs and plays piano on still another. The title of this collection is inspired by the house key she always wears attached to a chain around her neck. The implication is that Armatrading is always at the ready to open any musical door she encounters. The Key just about makes you believe she can do it.