"When everybody in the early days was comparing me to Joni Mitchell, I was actually listening to Led Zeppelin. I wasn't listening to Joni Mitchell."

That confession by Joan Armatrading might surprise her longtime fans, but in recent years the singer's albums have indeed been easing away from her adventurous folk-pop-jazz-reggae eclecticism. Armatrading (who plays the Greek Theatre on Saturday, the Pacific Amphitheatre on Tuesday and the San Diego Civic Theatre on Wednesday) said that movement has peaked in her new "Sleight of Hand" album.

"(Rock) is probably my favorite thing to listen to," Armatrading said by phone from Seattle. "I've always written (songs) in terms of rock. (Previous albums) just didn't work out as well as this one.

"It's an overall rock album as opposed to a jazz song here and another bit there. It's a complete album in terms of sound and songs. I would say this is one of my best albums."

From her first LP, 1973's "Whatever's for Us," the Caribbean-born Briton has arranged all her material. On "Sleight of Hand," she produced the record as well--not that it was that big a step. On all her records, she said, "I don't ask for anyone's opinion. When I say I arrange, I really do."

With her strong-willed independence, it's not surprising that Armatrading has been embraced by many in the feminist movement. But though the husky-voiced singer performed at the recent Amnesty International concert in New Jersey, she would rather leave the politicizing to the Jackson Brownes and Little Stevens.

"I've never been involved in the feminist movement," said Armatrading, 35. "I've never been a spokeswoman and I wouldn't want to be. I like my music to be enjoyed by everybody. I don't want to limit it to one group.

"If feminists want the music, it's there for them. But if a load of truck drivers want the music, it's there for them as well. I'm not speaking on behalf of women.

"When I write my songs, I generally write them so that the person who's listening can say 'I.' So a bloke can say those words to a woman or a woman can say those words to a bloke. That's the way I like it."

Armatrading once received some feminist criticism for not employing more female musicians in her bands over the years. "That's a very stupid thing to say," Armatrading said. "If you have any sense, you have in your band not a certain amount of people, but just good players. You don't have a woman who can't play a note to make a statement.

"If a woman musician came up to me who I thought was incredible and wanted to be in the band and I needed that particular instrumentation, she'd be in the band. I am not going to put somebody in the band just for the sake of it.

"There are a lot of bands at the moment who have women standing looking like they're doing something but they're not. There are some great women musicians, particularly percussionists and bass players, but there's not a stack of them about."

Armatrading has developed a devoted following, and she said that with each new album and tour she attracts new fans of varying ages and backgrounds. She doesn't seem too concerned with mainstream stardom.

"I would imagine any performer would like to reach quite a few people. It would be nice for more people to know what I did and hopefully like it. But you can't worry about it."

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