Like the cool air and diffuse light surrounding the desolate, ramshackle boardwalk pictured on the cover of her new record, Via (Thrill Jockey), something dark looms in Thalia Zedek's music. But also like the checkered blue boardwalk tiles that zigzag toward the sea in the image's distance, Zedek's investigations into rock-and-roll poetry are richly-hued and distinct. On her fourth solo album, they oscillate between contemplative and confrontational, soothing and brash. Starting March 4, Zedek embarks on a four-week Monday-night-residency at T.T. the Bear's Place in Cambridge, where she will be re-immersing herself in the local music scene by performing each one of her solo albums in their entirety (and Via on March 25).
Speaking from her home in Allston, Zedek distinguishes the worlds of poetry and lyrics as two different things. "Lyrics can be poetic," says the singer, whose solo career began in 2001 after a string of bands in the '80s and finally the dissolution of the essential Boston indie band Come. "But they are not poetry." Modesty aside, Zedek's couplets burn like embers in the early morning fires of her songs, bright against the low-contrast backdrop of murky, gothic blues-rock that sets off her essential vocals.
"There isn't a lot of time to reflect," she explains, imagining what it's like to listen to her music from the outside. "You tend to want to use language that is a little more visual." In "Walk Away" she imagines the faint outline of a lover's ghost. In "Winning Hand" she looks under the surface of the water. "Get Away" finds her peeking through a crack in the door — or rather has you doing the looking. This may be the stuff of dream interpretation, but it is the transitional magic of these in-between, almost liminal states that Zedek draws the listener in. "There are a lot of layers," she adds. "I tend to have songs that are not 100 percent happy or 100 percent sad."
Zedek is a punk child by musical birthright, and her admittedly picky lyrical craftsmanship puts her in the camp with other punk poets such as Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine, and Neil Young. Her pedigree pairs well with the understated ambience of her band, which includes long standing collaborators Mel Lederman (piano), Winston Braman (bass), and David Michael Curry (primarily on an eerie viola). There is strength in the shadows. Front and center is Zedek's own gripping guitar playing and, of course, her singing — a husky, shaky cant that conveys a sense that life's most tangible moments might actually occur in the hidden margins. "For better or worse, and in my case I'm not sure which it would be, you're sort of stuck with the voice you're born with," says Zedek. "It's like your nose."
THALIA ZEDEK + SPECIAL GUESTS :: T.T. the Bear's Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge :: March 4 + 11 + 18 + 25 @ 8:30pm :: 18+ :: $10 per night :: 617.492.0082 or ttthebears.com