Joan As Police Woman: To Survive

Joan As Police Woman’s sophomore album To Survive will be released on June 10th. The sensual beats and unusual phrasing of her debut Real Life now yield to a languidly melodic melancholia inspired by the battle with cancer and subsequent death of Joan’s mother. Joan Wasser was formerly a member of Antony & The Johnsons and she now counts among her fans Lou Reed, Juliette Lewis, and Rufus Wainwright – the latter contributes vocals to the new album.

“Honor Wishes” slides in with moody piano and foreboding male vocals behind Joan’s sultry voice. The melody of “Holiday” is a bit brighter, exploring more of Joan’s vocal range. The softly rhythmic first single “To Be Loved” has a light retro soul gloss.

“To Be Lonely” and “To Survive” are quietly beautiful piano ballads accented with gentle strings that seem to most plaintively express Joan’s sorrow over the loss of her mother. Joan’s lustrous voice rests in the deep, slackened beat of “Start Of My Heart” as if it were a diamond ring nestled in a velvet box.

Some arrangements fail to capture attention as grandly as those on Real Life, but Joan’s voice is always in top form. The finale “To America” features an uncharacteristically restrained vocal performance by Rufus Wainwright.

Joan As Police Woman – To Be Loved (mp3 expired)

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Soundtrack: Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man

The soundtrack to the documentary Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man features classic songs written by Leonard Cohen performed live during a concert called “Came So Far For Beauty: An Evening Of Leonard Cohen Songs”. Among the performers are Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Antony (of the Johnsons), Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, and Mr. Cohen himself with U2. There aren’t many songwriters like Leonard Cohen, and this collection of covers is a grand encomium to his enormous talent.

Martha Wainwright starts it up with a throaty, wailing rendition of “Tower of Song”. Nick Cave churns out a swaggering cabaret of “I’m Your Man”. Kate & Anna McGarrigle join Martha Wainwright to form an angelic choir on “Winter Lady”.

While I prefer Serena Ryder‘s more melodic interpretation of “Sisters Of Mercy”, Beth Orton gives an earnestly solemn performance of it here. Though “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” are my favourite Cohen songs, it’s “Sisters of Mercy” that contains my best-loved Leonard lyric – “if your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem”.

I was pleasantly surprised by Rufus Wainwright’s semisweet rendering of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. If only he showed off that astounding vocal range more often. Speaking of astounding voices, I truly believe that Antony‘s quivering voice could fill any song with depth and heartache. His cover of “If It Be Your Will” is no exception.

The Handsome Family take on “Famous Blue Raincoat” isn’t bad, but it pales in comparison to the original or even the cover by Tori Amos. Rufus Wainwright’s nasal performance on “Everybody Knows” could neither compete with the Cohen version nor the Concrete Blonde cover, but the new arrangement is saucy enough to keep it interesting.

Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen give a soulful presentation of “Anthem” before the bottomless voice of the man himself Leonard Cohen is paired with the electronic pop-rock of U2 for the finale “Tower Of Song”.

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Ann Wilson: Hope & Glory

Ann Wilson is probably best known as the wailing brunette half of the pop-rock band Heart. The September 11th release Hope & Glory is Ann’s first solo album, though she only sings alone on three tracks. The rest of the disc is a collection of duets. Among the guest singers are Ann’s sister Nancy Wilson (the blonde guitarist half of Heart and wife of director Cameron Crowe), Elton John, K.D. Lang, Wynonna, Gretchen Wilson, Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin, and Rufus Wainwright. Eleven of the twelve tracks are covers, with one original for the finale. Wilson tackles classics by Dylan, Lennon, Young, and Zeppelin as well as a modern classic by Lucinda Williams.

Hope & Glory is both better than I expect and somewhat of a disappointment. I feared that Ann may follow Linda Rhonstadt and Suzy Bogguss into softer territory rather than using the full potential of her voice, which I believe is one of the strongest female voices of the past four decades. But while Ann never fully unleashes those pipes, she does keep enough fire and depth in her singing to avoid mellow mediocrity.

The arrangements are also quite nice, often mixing pop and rock in a similar fashion to Heart with the addition of strings, steel, piano, and occasionally banjo for more melodic flow. I was pleasantly surprised by the slightly pumped up yet still very rustic take on Lucinda Williams’ “Jackson”.

Ann really shines during the few times that she has the spotlight to herself or when she shares it with her sister, particularly on the ominous “Goodbye Blue Sky”, her astounding cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, and on the original track “Little Problems, Little Lies”.

Unfortunately, that powerhouse voice often seems confined in order not to outshine the weaker guest vocalists. Only Wynonna, who appears on the howling “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”, seems capable of matching Ann’s range enough to allow her to really belt it out.

In the same way that Patti Smith recently used the songs of others to express her feelings on the state of the world today, the songs that Ann chose to cover on Hope & Glory share a theme of despair over war and hope for peace. I do hope that Ann will record a true solo album in the future, one that will grant her voice the freedom to soar to its full height. But there’s definitely more to enjoy than complain about in this initial step.

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