Album: THALIA ZEDEK BAND – Liars and Prayers (Thrill Jockey thrill196 2008)

To these ears Come were just about the finest rock band around during the nineties. Particularly live. Bassist Sean O’Brien and drummer Arthur Johnson created a loose, almost sloppy groove which allowed the liquid guitars of Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw to weave their magic. The band were masters of creating a micro-second delay before the chords crashed in, making the whole edifice constantly appear to be on the verge of collapse. It was all in the perception, though. In reality, they were as tight as hell. Coupled with Zedek’s world-weary, weathered voice intoning tales of life, love, loss and listlessness, it made for a band that had a unique melancholy fury. They should have been huge, but it was not to be. First the rhythm section jumped ship, and finally after 1998’s neglected masterpiece Gently Down the Stream, Brokaw and Zedek pulled the plug.

In 2001, Been Here and Gone appeared. While it didn’t sound radically different to Come, in some ways it was even more of a harrowing listening. The cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” ranks among the very best versions of one of his songs, and the piano ballad “1926”, written by Zedek’s friend Gary Gogel, was absolutely heartbreaking. A mini album, You’re a Big Girl Now, and a second full length record, Trust Not Those In Whom Without Some Touch Of Madness, followed in 2003 and 2004 respectively, and now Zedek is back leading a quintet.

Liars and Prayers follows the familiar sound that Zedek has established over two decades. But with a band that includes a pianist (Mel Lederman) and a multi-instrumentalist who plays viola and trumpet (David Michael Curry), the sound is fuller. At times it comes across like Tindersticks on steroids, at others not so far removed from the Dirty Three. As with Come, the most powerful songs are the slow building quasi-ballads which have an incredible tension to them. Opener “Next Exit” and “circa the end” are fine examples. The latter even starts out resembling the Shangri-Las at their most morose, before unleashing a kind of bilious rage that Mary Weiss and co would never contemplate. “Begin to Exhume” ends the album with a flourish, rattling along furiously before halving the pace three minutes in, allowing the tension to build before stopping dead in its tracks.

Like all of Thalia Zedek’s work, from Live Skull and Uzi right through to her solo records, Liars and Prayers takes a few listens to get into. But it’s worth the effort. It’s an album that is as good as any of her post-Come recordings.

Tracks
1 Next exit
2 Lower Allston
3 Do you remember
4 We don’t go
5 Body memory
6 Wind
7 Circa the end
8 Come undone
9 Green and blue
10 Stars
11 Begin to exhume

Website
http://members.cox.net/inferiority/thalia-zedek/
 

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