JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN: To Survive [Cheap Lullaby]

As violinist for Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Antony And The Johnsons and others, Joan Wasser possesses impeccable artistic credentials. As a former member of the Dambuilders and Those Bastard Souls, she has roots in more raucous styles. But as the leader of Joan As Police Woman, Wasser favors dramatic torch songs and artful ballads, and piano rather than violin. To Survive is both sparser and more polished than last year’s Real Life, JAPW’s acclaimed debut. Many of the songs build slightly on Wasser’s minor-key piano melodies, and they’re often serious contemplations of loneliness and devotion. (Wasser’s mother was dying of cancer during To Survive’s gestation.) A few songs open into something larger: “Holiday” begins as a soulful shuffle, then adds layers of dissonance; “Magpies” verges on blue-eyed soul, with horns and smooth, soft-rock backing vocals; “To America” finds Wasser drifting from the depths to the heights of her vocal range, and Wainwright does the same when he joins to duet. But nothing on To Survive equals “Christobel,” “Save Me” or the other stirring highlights of Real Life. []

—Steve Klinge