Back in 2018, we wrote about an upcoming vinyl reissue of Joan Armatrading's self-titled album on Intervention Records. (It was actually your author's very first post on The Second Disc!) Intervention had been making a name for themselves as the new kid on the block of audiophile labels. This imprint has since become known for its attention to detail, commitment to superior audio, and deluxe presentations. We were no doubt thrilled to hear what was to come. Well, after a slight pause, Intervention is back and has pressed up this long-awaited remaster on 180-gram vinyl. (It's done so well that the label is already on a second pressing!) We were able to give a listen to this beauty and there's no doubt it was worth the wait!
The 1976 Glyn Johns-produced Joan Armatrading was the British singer-songwriter's breakout album. Aided by timeless singles "Down To Zero" and "Love and Affection" and an appearance on SNL, it introduced American audiences to Armatrading's singular talents. Her soulful vocals, shimmering guitar work, and introspective yet universal songwriting are on full display on the celebrated recording. More than forty years later, it remains a landmark in the singer-songwriter genre, a showcase of musical talents and production aesthetics alike.
And so it's a perfect choice for Intervention Records to re-examine in the label's meticulous way. For this new pressing, the album was remastered from tape sources in an all-analog chain. The mastering work was undertaken by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. RTI handled the record pressing, using an ultra-quiet formula for the 180-gram pressing. If that weren't enough, the iconic album artwork has been fully restored and printed on a film-laminated, tip-on sleeve at Stoughton Printing. It's high-quality through and through -- the ultimate presentation of this singular album.
From the first note of the opening cut, "Down To Zero," it's clear Intervention has given listeners a real treat. The remastering opens the music up, with deep bass, impactful vocals, shimmering pedal steel, resonant drums, and newfound clarity. The wider soundstage and greater detail make it not only more involving but also more inviting throughout.
On the multipart "Help Yourself," Armatrading's arrestingly dynamic vocals seem to float above the impressively layered arrangement with ringing Fender Rhodes and subtle orchestral additions each given their space in the soundstage. After a breezy few verses and choruses, the band builds into a funky midsection locking into a groove. While this part gets muddy on other editions of the album, here the instruments are clear, but not distractingly so. That's also apparent on the dancefloor-ready "People" from Side 2, which proves the ensemble can rock with the best of them.
"Water With the Wine" is yet another example of what this new remastering job is capable of. The drums that are such a staple of the song hit harder here and the multitracked backing vocals are unveiled. Between the winding electric guitar parts, the powerful bass, and Armatrading's cooing scat singing, "Water With the Wine" is one of the most beautifully produced tracks on the album. On Intervention's pressing, it simply shines.
Another highlight is the fan favorite "Love and Affection." It's one of those tracks that rewards repeat listens with gorgeous production and performance alike. A study in emotion, the singer's vocal is alternately yearning and self-assured. Every subtle, breathy note is arresting and immediate. Armatrading's signature 12-string guitar motif rings out, enveloping the left and right. Meanwhile, the bass sounds more powerful, the emotive saxophone solo midway through more resonant, and those low backing vocals even more surprisingly bassy.
If you want to demonstrate what your music system can do, Intervention's new remaster of Joan Armatrading shouldn't be far away. Each track is dynamic, dramatic, and more affecting than ever. The album remains a reference for what's possible when stellar songwriting, amazing musicianship, and sensible production values collide.
Joan Armatrading has given listeners joy for over 40 years, leading some to wonder why it's being remastered and if it's worth getting again in this deluxe form. Well, the answer is simple: this pressing is the one to get - whether you're looking to replace a worn copy or you're brand new to the music. Intervention isn't seeking to reinvent the wheel with this remastered reissue. Rather, their intent is to present great music in the best way possible with the best sources and tools available. As a result, the listener's effectively hearing as close to the source as possible, with gentle mastering decisions that bring out the best of what's already on the tapes. All that's left is for you to sit back and enjoy the results.
On their remaster of Joan Armatrading, Intervention Records invites us to enjoy the album in a new way with superior sound and presentation all the way through. So, skip past the used copies and get this pressing (or the hybrid stereo SACD version, coming soon and playable on all CD players). Your ears will thank you.