Joan Wasser started out as a violinist, performing in a variety of bands throughout the ’90s including The Dambuilders, Black Beatle, and Antony and the Johnsons. She eventually broke out on her own, assuming the stage name Joan As Police Woman (inspired by the TV show Police Woman) and releasing her first solo album in 2006. After two solo records of original material, Joan As Police Woman released a limited edition covers album in 2009 that included a variety of songs, from T.I. to David Bowie. Four albums and over a decade later, Joan is back with Cover Two, a similarly eclectic batch of cover songs.
Joan As Police Woman describes the process of creating this album: “I start with the question, ‘WHY, exactly, do I love this song?’ I take those elements and reform them, sometimes removing much of the remaining material to refocus them through new glasses.” Her process is evident in the sound of the album. Her covers are sparse, but still evocative.
The first and last two songs on the album stand as ambitious bookends while the middle of the album provides a steady, slow groove.
Starting the album with Prince’s “Kiss” really sets the mood. Joan as Police Woman’s version is a slower burn than the original, with a subtler beat from the bass and a more laid back tempo. However, elements of Prince remain, as Joan still takes advantage of falsetto and strategic pauses to build tension and add emphasis. Reminding us of OutKast’s jazzy hip-hop “Spread” is a public service in and of itself, but a reimagining is welcome too. Joan As Police Woman’s version keeps the opening brass but maintains a little bit mellower tempo. The simple beat remains, but this version has some extra synth/electronic elements and sounds a little darker.
With an opening reminiscent of “Alone at A Drive-In Movie,” the penultimate song, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” rekindles our nostalgia for Grease. Accompanied by sock-hop crooners in the background, Joan as Police Woman sounds even more vulnerable than Rizzo in this simple cover. An interpretation of “Running” provides a strong finish. Joan As Police Woman joins Jamie xx in reimagining the work of Gil Scott-Heron, this time adding a simple melody to a spoken word piece. She adds a one-key-at-a-time piano backing; the rhythm does not lend itself to running, but rather provides a “two steps forward, one step back” soundtrack.
The entire album spans the ’70s, ’80s, and the ’00s (neither of Joan’s cover albums include songs from the ’90s) and a variety of genres. Even with this variety, the songs are thematically well chosen. Each flows into the next. Of the middle tracks, “I Keep Forgettin'” (originally by Michael McDonald, though its similarity to a Lieber-Stoller song means they get credit too) is the most changed. I associate this song with the signature opening that is sampled by Warren G and Nate Dogg in “Regulate.” This version completely gets rid of that part of the song, challenging us to connect with the song without our typical touchpoint. Delicate and dampened strums of the guitar are cut short in the background, while Joan As Police Woman’s mournful voice hovers right on the verge of breaking throughout the whole song. In some ways, by not leaning on the original instrumentation, the cover ends up being the anti-sample.
Overall, Cover Two is a solid cover album and definitely worth a listen. I admit that I get a little bit lost in the middle, but its beginning and ending are strong. The song choice and delivery stay true to Joan As Police Woman’s style.
Cover Two Tracklist
- Kiss (Prince cover)
- Spread (OutKast cover)
- Under Control (The Strokes cover)
- Not the Way (Cass McCombs cover)
- I Keep Forgettin’ (Michael McDonald cover)
- Life’s What You Make It (Talk Talk cover)
- Out of Time (Blur cover)
- On the Beach (Neil Young cover)
- There Are Worse Things I Could Do (Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs cover)
- Running (Gil Scott-Heron cover)