The cover versions album can often be a rushed affair, and if not used properly it can be a stop gap for an artist having trouble with their own inspiration. Worse, it can become a release where the interpreter brings nothing new to the originals or even makes them worse.
That is emphatically not the case for Joan Wasser. For the Police Woman, the cover version is about stripping everything back to the bare elements, an act akin to the loving restoration of a vintage car. While the song in question lies on the operating table, she applies her own thoughts and keenly wrought emotions, bringing it back with the original musical material seen only through her eyes. Eleven years have been spent perfecting these ten songs, some becoming live favourites in the process – and now Wasser is finally ready to add a sequel to her successful Cover album of 2009.
As listeners we find ourselves eavesdropping on a private musical therapy session, with unlimited access to Joan’s personal quarters. That is certainly the case with her take on Kiss, the windows already steamy as the singer works her own lascivious magic on the Prince original. The word ‘sultry’ was made for covers like this! If anything the following Spread, from Outkast’s Speakerboxx / The Love Below, turns up the temperature still further. Sparring with the hypnotic vocals of Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan adds beatbox drums as the two get up close and personal.
When the Southbank Centre gave a concert in tribute to Talk Talk in November 2019, they asked Wasser to contribute her cover of Life’s What You Make It, a version already several years in the making. Reworking such an anthemic song is a bold move indeed, but here the raking vocal lines are given extra depth with the countermelodies sung by Justin Hicks, not to mention the subtle funk in the loping beat.
It typifies the extraordinary intimacy to this album, especially when heard on headphones. We witness The Strokes’ Under Control reinvented as a slow moving RnB ballad, Wasser singing confidentially with a slow piano and blossoming guitar. Meanwhile there may well be tears for Blur’s Out Of Time, the upward curve of its melody beautifully managed over a solitary piano. Similarly On The Beach, this version of Neil Young’s torch song given out with just a single finger piano line responding to the murmured but captivating vocal. The more the song travels, the more the piano nags.
Yet perhaps the most devastating of reinterpretations is saved for Michael McDonald’s Keep Forgetting. This version is almost the polar opposite of the slinky original and soaring vocal, looking inwards and questioning the inner soul with two vocal parts. The album ends with a cover of Gil Scott Heron’s Running, again a song laid bare in a way that typifies the deep and intense feeling experienced throughout the album – but with an added sense of mystery.
So complete are her reinventions that Joan As Police Woman has made Cover Two sound like her own work. A great deal of thought has gone into these covers, now transferred to her own private collection. That does mean not everyone will buy into some very individual takes on well-known songs, but with soul and body laid completely bare, no emotional stone is left unturned.