Having had to wait just over three years for a follow-up to one of the best albums of 2011, anticipation has been one of high but anxious expectation. Thankfully, the anxiety element was entirely unnecessary as 'The Classic', Joan as Police Woman's fourth album, is a stunning follow-up to 2011's 'The Deep Field'.
The whole album has a feeling of being such a complete and cohesive piece of work bound by wonderfully exuberant and sumptuous threads. 'The Classic' is another accomplished, fully-formed album from the formidable Joan Wasser. The maturity and dexterity with which 'The Deep Field' was delivered is, again, in evidence here. This time around though, Joan has allowed herself more freedom and a more indulgent framework, and as such she has become even more expressive.
The temperament with which Joan approaches her work is perfectly presented on 'The Classic'. Joan has once again shown just how good an album can be without the need to languish in melancholy. The mood of her latest work embodies her 'lust for life' and beautifully encapsulates an upbeat, life-affirming disposition. Having gone back to a more traditional live recording set up, Joan has managed to capture a real sense of joy and happiness. There is little shoe gazing and plenty of celebration.
The album title itself is a fine homage to the all-girl doo-wop groups of the '60s with references also drawn from Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, amongst others, as well as a take on Aretha Franklin's 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T' as Joan spells out the name of the song 'The C-L-A-S-S-I-C'. The vocal harmonisation is spot on and the deep, baritone notes that underpin the arrangement are fabulous.
There is a flamboyance to the album that is so positive. The production is superb. From the opening track 'Witness' you are treated to wave after wave of musical magnificence. Tracks like 'The Magic' from her previous album showed how talented and accomplished a singer-songwriter and performer Joan is but 'The Classic' is bursting at the seams with brilliant songs. The horns, organ and lyrical delights of 'Witness' segue into the album's first single 'Holy City'. With an infectiously percussive beat that zips along, revolving keys, soaring organ notes and Joan's soulful vocals putting in a cheerfully passionate performance, you can't help but be swept up in the mood of such an upbeat song.
'Good Together' slows the pace but maintains the high quality as Joan shuns the need for nostalgia and reminiscence. The mix is as sumptuous as the layered vocal, and the extended finale, rather than being over the top, is an extravagant indulgence that really works to close out the track. Slowing the bpm still further, Joan slides sublimely into her most soulful and sensuous guise on the album in the form of 'Get Direct'; a gloriously fuzzy love song where everything from the high piano notes and the occasional violin to the big bass drum and the deliriously relaxed vocals fit perfectly to embody Joan's love for life and love itself (as she says throughout, "It's elementary").
Elsewhere, 'What Would You Do' builds a wall of sound harking back to the headiness of the '60s, drawing in a theatricality to help deliver a vibrant and stylish sound full of deft touches and clever instrumentation. 'New Year's Day' sees Joan in a more sorrowful mood; 'tired of her life' and lacking a drive and determination having momentarily lost her positivity. The summer scented brass section of 'Shame' has Joan re-energised in another hook-laden blast of soulfulness before the more laid back 'Stay' washes in. Joan's smouldering voice together with the backing harmony vocals are delightful and are fittingly complimented by the strings. Finally, with an almost reggae hewn beat, 'Ask Me' closes out the ten track set in a somewhat more reflective mood: "If I am dreaming I want this dream again".
'The Classic' from Joan As Police Woman is, without doubt, her best album to date. Her vocals get better with age, her lyricism is full of character and surprise, the production is flawless and the collective coherence of the finished article makes this an album worth listening to in its entirety.
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