Web Exclusive! Review of the Day ? Joan as Police Woman: Real Life

Joan As Police Woman
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Real Life

Cheap Lullaby Records

Grade: ****

Before turning cop, the classically trained Joan Wasser was an indie-rock mercenary who lent her gifted violin chops to such acts as The Dambuilders, ex-Helium boss Mary Timony, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright and Sheryl Crow.

Wearing a badge that now says “reformed punk turned soul musician,” Wasser’s new band, formed in 2002, plays a new breed of classically informed R&B fused with elements of rock that’s remarkably timeless and refined.

She’s not the first to try to merge indie-rock and soul. Go back and listen to the Afghan Whigs’ 1965. That mix, however, was a lot rougher, with emotional torture ingrained in Greg Dulli’s throat-shredding vocals and a tough, hard-edged band behind him forming a dark, velvet curtain of guitars, drums and bass.

Real Life, on the other hand, is a house haunted by memories and spare atmospheres, delicate percussion, swooning strings and lovely piano passages, such as those found in the minimalist title track. The lovely interplay of violin and piano in “Feed The Light” is so subtle and evocative, capturing the same weariness and hurt found in Nina Simone’s deep, smoky vocals.

A more classic soul approach is taken in “The Ride,” “Anyone” and “Flushed Chest,” all drifting slowly and oozing with horns, Wasser’s pained vocals and rich piano movements. And the “deep as a well” male vocals interwoven with Wasser’s on “Eternal Flame” give it a strong gospel/Motown feel.

“Christobel” is the most guitar-oriented track, offering a streamlined groove that rushes into the dark-pop dreamworld of Siouxie And The Banshees.

There are unexpectedly dissonant forks in the road taken in “The Ride” that tell of Wasser’s newfound sophistication as arranger, and even though she’s not as powerful a singer as Joss Stone, her bittersweet, dreamy songwriting and skill at weaving together instrumentation and a chorus of different voices makes Stone look like the little girl she is. This is for adults only, the stuff of Al Green and Van Morrison. (www.cheaplullaby.com)

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