Through a sparse guitar line and viola-and-drum interlude breaks a world-weary voice that intones, "I can't go back to my favorite bar, 'cause now I'm sure that there's some lessons that I'm never gonna learn." In "Back to School," the second song on Thalia Zedek's debut solo album, Been Here and Gone on Matador, Zedek digs into the sort of downward spiral journeymen of personal oblivion aspire to narrate, but rarely succeed in painting in hues that are anything more than indulgent. And just when you think the lows can't go more subterranean, the next song, "Temporary Guest," opens with Zedek's vocal chords seemingly ripping as they crack, "You are going to hell/You're going to be living with yourself," like a dulled band saw busting its teeth on petrified wood.
As a member of some solid rock outfits, most noticeably Live Skull, Uzi and Come, guitarist and vocalist Zedek smelted fiery, if stark, alloys of rock's power-chord basics and punk's metal histrionics. But as Gone reveals, Zedek has underutilized her vocal capabilities in a rock setting. Her distinctive, gravelly, nasal tone is as dark and thick as a Russian novel, and rock and roll's crunch, even in outfits as bluesy and groovy as Come, never aimed as far as she could reach. Gone places Zedek in an almost cabaret setting, at once stripped-down instrumentally and more baroque in mood.
Aided by Come partner Chris Brokaw on electric and slide guitar, along with some Boston-area regulars, Zedek dives into a fusion of Kurt Weill-ish torch songs tempered with jazz-folk ornaments. Everything gets filtered through her gritty lyrical prism. What results is less a genre study than it is a relatively unique showcase of personal vision. She nails the precarious limbo of a relationship bouncing between love and hate in "Treacherous Thing" with the line, "Though I hate your lies, you still hypnotize." You have to reach back to male folkies from the 1960s like Tim Buckley and Fred Neil, or more contemporary, recovering deep drinkers like Steve Earle to find vocals and lyrics as naked as found here.
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The stunner, though, is "1926," a voice and piano lament that's almost Rimbaudian in its emotional extremity. A cover of a tune by early 1980s outfit V, this ode to loneliness culminates with Zedek wrenching, "Your God hates me/He can't feel my flesh/He leaves me panting like a dog at the edge of your bed." And her gut-punching delivery leaves you wondering, if God hates her, is there anybody he's gonna like?