Joan Armatrading reached newfound commercial heights with the release of her 1976 self-titled album; her third lp at that time and first working with producer Glyn Johns. The record featured Armatrading’s sole Top 10 single, the soaring and majestic “Love and Affection” – a track that firmly planted her as a pop star, albeit one who could blend that loose term with soul, folk, jazz and r&b. Armatrading could get high and she could get low, and preferred to be known first and foremost as a songwriter. On the epic album opener “Down To Zero,” she sings of insecurity and paints a devastating portrait of an attempt at self-empowerment. “Brand new dandy / First class scene stealer / Walks through the crowd and takes your man / Sends you rushing to the mirror / Brush your eyebrows and say / There’s more beauty in you than anyone.”
But Armatrading would get darker. On the troubled sessions of her second album, Back to the Night, she was frequently absent-minded and would sometimes walk out, forgetting where she was supposed to be, wandering off. She would later admit to having gone through “a bad period” during this time, a depression that would certainly materialize in her songwriting.
Which brings to us to the stirring and darkly profound “Woncha Come On Home,” off her 1977 follow-up, Show Some Emotion. A surprising opening to a record that sounds nothing else like it, Glyn Johns strips away the saxophone, electric guitar and drums, leaving Armatrading with just her voice, her guitar, a thumb piano, and her demons. Our narrator longs for her lover to come on home, paranoid by the presence of shadowy men, a “madman” even, standing on the corner, peering into her window. She’s left all the lights on and the doors bolted, but “every room is empty except for one.” Her vocals are doubled over herself, suggesting a sort of split personality, a paranoia that speaks to the breathtakingly powerful subtext of this song. That there is no “man standing on the corner,” that no “shadow moves across the window.” Here we have an unstable and troubled woman, dependent and alone in her apartment. The stripped down arrangement, the unique country-folk delivery of Armatrading’s vocals, the warbly and deceivingly charming gleam of the thumb piano, it makes for one of, if not the most, moving and stand-alone performances of her career. At two minutes and forty seconds, it ends all too quickly, in all its brilliant and heartbreaking beauty. For the gravity of the song, it’s near impossible to stop listening to. words / c depasquale