There’s plenty to parse through and examine in Thalia Zedek’s musical past alone. Coming up though Boston’s underground music scene in the early ‘80s in the short-lived Uzi provides enough cult fodder. Her later projects Live Skull and Come put her in the same league as fellow rock and roll undergrounders Kim Gordon and Lydia Lunch.
But it’s Zedek’s life experience that has really shaped things—both personally and musically. Her cut-to-the-bone truisms have been with her since her early days well into her later solo outings. It’s been a long road filled with loss and regret, facing her own demons and essentially working within a system that has inherently left her and millions of other women swimming upstream. And it’s written all over her voice.
Zedek’s solo work, which began with 2001’s Been Here and Gone and continued through 2008’s Liars and Prayers, is emotionally exhausting. Via is no exception. The centerpiece, of course, is Zedek’s smoky, off-kilter rasp, made wholly holy by cigarettes and years of abuse (her live performances are known for their cathartic release).
At a taut nine songs, Via slowly picks up steam, sort of like getting up in the morning. By the time you get to “He Said,” guitars have begun to really stretch out. In fact, Via is really a guitar record, and they’re wonderfully warm and fuzzy throughout. The outro guitar solo on “Lucky One” will keep you coming back. And the noisy explosions of “Want You to Know” have the harrowing beauty of a mushroom cloud. As big as the guitars are, they remain copacetic with piano, viola and new drummer Dave Bryson of Son Volt, whose spacious, less-busy style allows the instruments to do their thing.
Lyrically Via is maybe more optimistic than anything Zedek has written before. Maybe there’s more a sense of longing than anything, but resolutions offer some payoff. Instead of a song called “Losing Hand,” we get one titled “Winning Hand.” “And where I wanted to be by now / Is not the place, but I can see how / I’ll get there somehow,” Zedek sings. Those big open guitar cords only add to the song’s emotional thrust. If listening to Via makes you feel good, chances are Zedek is feeling good. Powerful stuff.