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Thalia Zedek

While Thalia Zedek only recently began recording under her own name, she is not exactly a new face on the independent rock scene. Since the end of the '70s, the songwriter has been a prolific and prodigious musical force, performing in no fewer than five bands of consequence over her two-decade career. Zedek started in Boston, briefly playing with a band called White Women before leaving to front the all-female Dangerous Birds in 1981. Two years later that band splintered, and Zedek formed the short-lived but acclaimed Uzi. After that project, Zedek was invited to join the New York post-No Wave noise band Live Skull, with whom she played until that band hit the skids in 1990.

Struggling in her personal life, Zedek returned to Boston. There she soon began working with Codeine drummer Chris Brokaw, who would play guitar in the duo's new band, Come. This venture would prove the most successful of Zedek's career. During the next decade, Come issued four albums, all of which found favor with fans, critics, and peers alike, more fully exploring the sludgy, dissonant blend of blues and garage with which Zedek had briefly flirted earlier in her career. On these records Zedek's gritty, cathartic vocals established herself as one of rock's great female vocalists, in the vein of Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Exene Cervenka, and Johnette Napolitano. After Come's third album, 1996's Near Life Experience, the band did a couple of short "cabaret" tours, on which they stripped their material down, with Zedek often accompanied only by piano and strings.

After '98's Gently, Down the Stream, Come went on permanent hiatus and Zedek returned to New York to do more of these minimal "cabaret"-style performances, singing covers of Alex Chilton, Leonard Cohen, and The Ramones songs as well as torch standards. These performances evolved naturally into her magnificent and epic 2001 full-length debut, Been Here and Gone. Zedek's solo material doesn't strive to be cutting-edge or avant-garde; its considerable impact comes from its timelessness and universality. Often reminiscent of late Marianne Faithfull, her enthrallingly weary, throaty warble demands your attention; it's perfectly complemented by spare and elegant arrangements of guitars, viola, piano, and drums, which effortlessly interweave dark, delicate piano balladry and sinister, sprawling blues-rock. The album's eleven songs stretch almost an hour, but that's not nearly enough. "1926," a song penned by Zedek's longtime friend Gary Gogel, features only a stark piano under Zedek's ravaged vocals, which culminate in the closing chorus "Your God hates me/He can't feel my flesh/He leaves me panting like a dog/At the edge of your bed." It's emblematic of the uncommon depth of emotion and experience to be found on this outstanding album.