Joan Armatrading has remained busy since her last widely distributed release, What's Inside, which arrived in 1995.

Joan Armatrading has remained busy since her last widely distributed release, What's Inside, which arrived in 1995. She earned a doctorate in music from the University of Birmingham, she wrote a song for Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday celebration, and she contributed a benefit CD to PACES, a charity for children with cerebral palsy. Last year, she entered the studio to record Lovers Speak, a 14-song collection that focuses on love and devotion, the dominant subjects of her 32-year career. But unlike her somber meditations of the '70s, the new songs are often upbeat, even chirpy. The title track rides a tinge of Caribbean percussion, and "Love Bug" has echoes of classic R&B. Bluegrass figures prominently in "Waiting," and "Prove Yourself" is nearly a flat-out rocker. Armatrading's commanding, deep alto unites this eclectic mix, creating an engaging and occasionally superb return.—MJ

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