Joan as Police Woman, “Cover Two”

Joan as Police Woman
Cover Two

After the massive reconnoitering that was last year’s three-LP Joanthology, the ever-soulful, elegantly art-rocking, delightfully quixotic Joan Wasser—a.k.a. Joan as Police Woman—returns to a poignant form of reminiscing that she started eleven years ago with her first album of deconstructed favorites. Tried as I might, this writer could find no cultural or political basis for this new set of covers, save for an opportunity to lend her usual intrepid brand of quirk and ferocity to songs she digs. Which is fine—we could use joy without reason (but rhyme) right about now.

It’s no surprise that Wasser turns tracks by the urban, often motorik indie-pop likes of The Strokes (“Under Control”) and Blur (“Out of Time”) into lustrously arranged and moody R&B-ish tracks worthy of Hi Records circa 1975. She’s got a gutsy, lusty voice well suited to soul—old and new—and each of these tracks allows Wasser-the-vocalist to find her most fragile tremor and quiet storming sotto voce for the sake of nuanced emotion while offering a piano’s hammering as its principle rhythm—a heartbeat.

That same heart’s beat is what drives her take on Prince’s “Kiss,” its minor key and simmering sensuality in the vocal department pushed forward in the mix courtesy a spare, holy, and thoroughly unique arrangement. Give it a chance and you’ll find Joan’s “Kiss” the equal of Prince’s, but in weirder, still sex-onomic fashion. Finessed eroticism—spare, and with a twist—is also the somnolently funky focus of OutKast’s “Spread,” here made less musky and more feminine by matching Wasser’s purr to that of fellow vexing vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, and punching it up with a gorgeous trumpet solo.

Paring things down is Wasser’s thing, apparently, on Covers Two, as she cuts down Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’” to size, while maximizing its soulfulness in pursuit of a lost love, and re-visits griot Gil Scott-Heron’s “Running,” only to turn it torrid and sad—a mini-jazzy tale of something dear that got away. And though doing Neil Young’s “On the Beach” allows Wasser a preciousness while completing loss and want, a personal favorite here is her take on the camp, ’50s-based musical Grease and its most lovelorn ballad, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Making playful soft-to-the-touch doo wop out of Rizzo’s stately ballad is just delicious.

Though you may yearn for Wasser to turn her attention to her own Southern gothic brand of art-pop composition soon, another volume of like-minded covers would be just as welcome.


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