joan as police womanto survive
  • TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 09, 2008

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Any discussion of a new album by Joan as Police Woman will usually be couched in the same introductory notes, for the benefit of those who weren't already introduced to them in their 2006 debut, Real Life. Most are quick to point out that frontwoman Joan Wasser's ex-boyfriend was the late Jeff Buckley, who died of a freak drowning accident after only releasing one album, Grace. Ok, that's out of the way. Of course, she's been in the music scene for years, playing with various acts. In To Survive, we certainly see many musical sources, and that her sound extends far beyond the niche that female singer-songwriters have been carving for themselves over the past few years.

From the first track, listeners could easily mistake this album for another Feist work, or maybe even Norah Jones, with the piano-centered "Honor Wishes" and drums that keep simple rhythm to Wasser's voice. In these instances, the instrumental parts seem merely to serve as a compliment to the vocal track, but Wasser escapes the monotony that can arise from listening to chanteuse albums where multiple tracks blend into one. Wasser's voice can inspire auditory associations from the obvious Feist to Natalie Merchant, Joni Mitchell, and even Jeff Buckley, as "To be Lonely" sounds like it could have been in the studio sessions for Grace.

Focusing on these songs, however, would be a disservice to the important deviations that the album takes at other points. When the piano takes a backseat, as in "Start of My Heart," we get something like Sinead O'Connor, or, as in "Holiday," a taste of Zero 7. "Magpies," a song that's probably the most upbeat and engaging in the album, utilizes a horn section that seems to come right out of a Chicago song.

To Survive certainly won't bring any followers who aren't fans of the smoky lounge piano adult contemporary sound that hovers in the background of wine and cheese parties, but it is far from being another in a growing pile of albums that become indistinguishable from each other. With incorporations from a few diverse, yet oddly related sources, To Survive feels like an ex post facto missing link in the evolution of the genre. - eric silver

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