To the Limit is a more fitting follow-up to the self-titled Joan Armatrading, as it returns to that album's catchy melodies and fully fleshed-out arrangements. Again, the backing band is almost entirely new to Armatrading, retaining only the rhythm section of Dave Markee and Henry Spinetti from past efforts, but instead of sounding tentative, the band infuses the material with bright and natural music. Although the record doesn't contain any hits -- "Barefoot and Pregnant" and "Bottom to the Top" were the singles -- it doesn't suffer from the dips in mood and quality that made Show Some Emotion less than satisfying. Nothing on To the Limit is obvious filler, and the intelligent track placement -- alternating ballads and rockers -- gives the songs a chance to develop their own identities. Picking the best tracks on this album is sure to be a matter of taste; fans of Armatrading's ballads will enjoy "Your Letter" and "Baby I," those enamored of her island melodies will find them on "Barefoot and Pregnant" and the reggae-styled "Bottom to the Top," and anyone looking for crossovers into blues and jazz can turn to "Am I Blue for You" and "You Rope You Tie Me." The only knock on this album is that it lacks a real standout song like a "Willow" or "Love and Affection" -- nothing on To the Limit is great, but nearly everything is good. One could make a case for something as contagiously catchy as "Taking My Baby up Town," but even that falls shy of her most enduring singles. For this reason, To the Limit is rarely represented come compilation time. Ironically, it's one of her better albums, a good bet for fans who enjoyed her eponymous effort and aren't ready to jump into the rock sound of subsequent albums.