Singer-songwriter Thalia Zedek has followed up the excellent Liars And Prayers with Via, an album whose songs capture her long-developing sense of perspective in conjunction with her ever-present yearning. Her songs build up with militaristic drum beats, jarring strings, and most importantly, her weary voice. While the tumult surrounding the creation of this album (her longtime drummer left the band and her producer’s studio was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy) might otherwise lead to more immediately dramatic downers, Zedek’s life experiences and, more importantly, sense of hope lends Via an optimistic, triumphant sheen.
If three words sum up Via, it’s the phrase “I’ve seen people” on Straight And Strong. Indeed, the 51-year-old has made an album about reflection, but also about the limits of reflection. No matter what she’s experienced in the past, she’s not going to let her negative – or even positive – experiences decide or affect her future.
A stalwart in the Boston indie scene of the past thirty or so years, Zedek, a member of alt rock groups like Uzi, Live Skull and Come, is arguably producing her best work at the later stages of her career. When she sings “The future doesn’t change the past” on stunning opener Walk Away, it doesn’t come across as depressed, or even cliché; rather, Zedek accepts the past for what it is and continues to strive and to create anyway. Refreshingly, she’s not playing the “what if?” game. Elsewhere, Winning Hand is a slow core track that twice blooms away from its stoicism and launches into a speedier, heart-on-sleeve anthem. He Said contains a weeping guitar solo juxtaposed with Mel Lederman’s gorgeous piano. And album closer Want You To Know is an eight-minute track that contains just the right amount of noise to lend the song a feeling of spontaneity, but not enough to overshadow the eventual psychedelic guitars and drums, immaculately produced and mixed.
Aesthetically, Zedek is indebted to big guns like The Rolling Stones (or perhaps even Jack White’s more recent solo material). The guitars and strings on standout track Straight And Strong recall a bluesier, darker, more bass-heavy version of, say, The Raconteurs’ Old Enough. Indeed, violist David Michael Curry has hit a stride on Via, lending its songs the quintessential yearning of the best Americana. Like many of the songs on Via, Straight And Strong, and especially Lucky One, ultimately delve into precise guitar and drum solos, as if Zedek and her band are competing and warring in the quest to emote, bringing out the best in everybody involved.
In a recent Boston Globe profile, Zedek revealed that she struggles with the fact that people tend to think of her music as depressing, sad, lonely, agonizing, and angsty. Liars And Prayers songs like opener Next Exit contain a similar structure to the songs on Via: slowcore ultimately falls apart and picks up into something more urgent, even if not always lively. The difference between Zedek’s 2008 release and her new release, however, is a newfound sense of purpose and exhilaration. Not quite buoyant but still enthusiastic, Via should encourage listeners to start paying attention: behind the wails of the Thalia Zedek Band lies the very existential feeling that all hope is not lost because it comes from inside you, that you can recover from death, from war, or even from natural disasters.