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Album Review: Joan as Policewoman – The Classic

3 min read

With just over 3 years between records, Brooklyn’s Joan Wasser aka. Joan as Policewoman returns with her fifth full-length release The Classic – a ten-track collection showcasing everything from the stunning versatility of that gorgeous voice of hers to her ever-present sense of musical adventure. Picking up where 2011’s sensually sentimental The Deep Field left off, Wasser and co. expand the scale of their operations this time around making for a hugely rewarding listening experience both lyrically and musically.

Joan As PoliceWoman The ClassicKicking off with the technicolour soul revival cut Witness, it’s clear that Joan isn’t holding any punches on album number five. A steadfast call to arms against self-destruction, it lands somewhere between The Supremes at their sassiest and the opening credits of a “classic” 007 film with glorious results. Lead single Holy City keeps the ‘70s car chase urgency at the forefront with robust brass stabs, a fuzzed-out guitar solo straight from 1978 and a cameo from none other than comedian/musical cosmonaut and fellow Brooklynite Reggie Watts.

Watts also rears his frizzy head on the a-capella title track along with the surprisingly smooth bass vocals of singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. It’s a superficially dorky barbershop exercise but it’s irresistibly sweet and manages to stay away from anything too gimmicky interrupt the record’s arc.

Despite the album being named after the only song on which they don’t appear, Wasser’s backing band conjures some truly astounding musical landscapes for her throughout. Few drum intros are as instantly recognizable as Parker Kindred’s on Jeff Buckley’s timeless Everybody Here Wants You and that same “so-loose-it’s-incredibly-tight” feel of his permeates most of The Classic to great effect. There isn’t a single bass guitar on the entire album, however keyboardist Tyler Wood’s synth bass more than capably fills the bottom end with more groove and tasteful inventiveness than a lot of bass players out there today. There are a couple of points where this approach robs the record of its otherwise bang-on old school production aesthetic, but they are certainly few and far between. And live, that’s just his left hand!

While it may lack some of the midnight chanteuse haze some loved in her earlier jazz inspired work, Wasser’s voice is in breathtaking form for the entirety of the record. Equal diligence has been paid to both Joan the heartfelt storyteller/bombastic soul-mama frontwoman (she’s phenomenal at both) and Joan the unobtrusive, sympathetically layered backing vocalist; see the somewhat odd choice of a closer, the uncomfortably bouncy reggae outing Ask Me. That being said, it’s nice to leave the record on a comfortable plateau after 54 minutes of covering such a vast range of musical territory.

The overall tone of The Classic is an optimistic one. Particularly on songs like the dreamy bedroom groove of Get Direct or bubbly pseudo-disco jam Shame, Wasser presents as someone who’s dealt with their imperfections and ready to fall in love again; with the world, with music, with someone special and above all with themselves. Think “YOLO” for grown ups.