As remarkable as her pedigree is (she was the late, great Jeff Buckley’s girlfriend and has worked with everyone from Elton John to Antony and the Johnsons), Joan Wasser’s music is impressive in its own right. Though technically a band, Joan as Police Woman is very much Wasser’s baby, as it’s the first project on which the singer/pianist/guitarist/violinist serves as both principal composer and vocalist. A few of the melodies on Joan as Police Woman’s second album, To Survive, seem as if they were picked from the brain of Rufus Wainwright (with whom Wasser cut her teeth performing live and who sings on the closing track, “To America”), but the album has a sensibility that’s wholly unique to Wasser—including subtle, carefully placed dissonances that create a handsome cacophony on “Holiday,” and macabre girl-group vocals that underscore the “damage” she’s done on the self-reassuring synth-dirge “Start of My Heart.” To Survive begins with the measured piano waltz of “Honor Wishes,” Wasser posing pointed questions like “Would you trust me?,” in which she drags out the word “trust” into a throaty, multi-syllabic drawl of a challenge as spooky male background vocals emphasize the heft of her query. It’s hard not to think of Buckley, who drowned in 1997, when hearing the crashing wave sounds that precede the question, “Will we ever meet again?” or when she advises, “I know what it means to be sad/It never goes away/So learn to hold it close as a friend” on the title track. When she concedes that she “must find the spark to survive,” however, there’s little question that she’s already found it.
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