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Thalia Zedek - You're a Big Girl Now


All Music Guide

Thalia Zedek is the kind of artist who is easy to overlook -- her work is so consistently strong, so oblivious to trends, and so true to its uniquely grim, world-weary ethos that for better or worse you can check in after a prolonged absence but still know exactly what to expect. The You're a Big Girl Now EP, her second solo effort, continues the haunted, strung-out blues-rock approach Zedek perfected with her band Come, albeit softened by spartan piano and mournful viola accompaniment (courtesy of Victory at Sea's Mel Lederman and the Willard Grant Conspiracy's David Michael Curry, respectively). Highlighting the six-song set are two covers -- Bob Dylan's title song and the Velvet Underground's transsexual ode "Candy Says" -- that confront themes of gender identity and dislocation with a directness comparable to Zedek's most intimate material; given that her own songs also rely on her raw, gripping vocals to get the message across, she invests in these covers an emotional intensity that the originals never realized, making the songs her own in the process. -Jason Ankeny


Mundane Sounds

I recently spent some time defending Bob Dylan and his place in rock history. My friend said he was a personality first and talent second. He argued that while Dylan's greatness is based on one or two really great moments in the 1960s, he hasn't been relevant for decades. While my friend is entitled to his opinion, and while there may be some validity to his argument, I think he's wrong. It's too bad that I moved away before I had a chance to really listen to Thalia Zedek's new record, You're A Big Girl Now, because this little record is just the proof that I could have used to show that Dylan's still relevant.

Zedek's made some really interesting music in the past (Come, Live Skull), and her solo work has proven to be just as interesting. On You're A Big Girl Now, Zedek's going for a more traditional rock singer-songwriter sound that really works for her. Two of the six songs on this mini-album are covers, including an excellent reading of Lou Reed's "Candy Says." The title track is a classic and heartbreaking Bob Dylan song that comes from his greatest musical statement, Blood on the Tracks. Zedek's voice is a deep, husky growl that sounds like she smoked too many cigarettes this morning, and that voice really captures the soul of both songs. Because both Reed and Dylan have trademark rough singing voices, Zedek's rough yet sexy growl really fits these songs. The other four songs are equally excellent, heartbreaking, and moody. "Everything Unkind," the opening number, links in rather nicely with "No Fire," the album closer, sounding very much like a variation on the same melody. I'm particularly fond of "No Substitutions," because it's a sweet-sounding number with a hidden red hourglass on its belly--much like the best songs by Dylan and Reed.

Zedek's the first female Dylan I've heard in a long time, and unlike Patti Smith, she's actually good! You're A Big Girl Now is reaffirmation that the styles set down so long long ago--rock singer/songwriters. Zedek's had a very interesting career so far, and there's no reason to think that it'll get less interesting as time goes on. It's a quietly excellent record, and I'd like to think of it as a hint of forthcoming greatness. -Joseph Kyle



Okay, let's say you were still in diapers when Nico was fronting VU. Marianne Faithfull has always, in your experience, been a frightening old woman. Nina Simone -- oh yeah, isn't she in some Talib Kweli song? The question is, if you missed all that, where are you going to go to get your generation's dose of been-to-hell-and-back, smoke-and-whiskey female crooning? Two words: Thalia Zedek.

You probably know that Thalia Zedek used to sing with Come, Live Skull and Uzi. You may be in possession of her rivetingly intense 2001 solo Been Here and Gone. On You're a Big Girl Now, she continues to add earth-tones to her painted-black palette, supplementing her powerhouse raw alto with similarly low-toned viola played by David Michael Curry. The addition of strings and acoustic piano warms the sound, transforming Come's bombed-out bleakness to a stronger, more hopeful survivor's song.

As on her solo debut, Zedek takes a bold approach to covers, lifting songs from the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan. Her rendition of "Candy Says" is a revelation, drawing every ounce of world-weary gender uncertainty from the original, and adding, with her mesmerizingly deep voice, a divine mixture of vulnerability and toughness. The title track, from Dylan's soul-searching Blood on the Tracks, captures the jagged introspection of the original, yet adds something new -- a sense of overcoming, a final lift-off that sets the track soaring.

It's a dangerous strategy, putting your own songs right next to ones written by legends -- but Zedek pulls it off. She references Dylan in the rootsy accompaniment and tossed-off hurt of "Everything Unkind". She recalls VU in the fuzzy, Eastern-tones guitars of "JJ85". She finds a pristine peace in "No Substitutions", invoking Ghost Dance-era Faithfull. She pulls up a chair at the big table as if she belongs there -- and what do you know? She does. -Jennifer Kelly



Singing with a tone of resignation bordering on comatose, Come co-founder Thalia Zedek cheers in a melancholy way on You're a Big Girl Now. Zedek has always been one of the most visceral and soul-searching of musicians; Come was her showplace for working through scars and living her life as an open book. Zedek's kind of raw exhibitionism can be both beautiful and savage, and it fills her music with a stark realism missing from most contemporary records. Big Girl finds Zedek in no-depression territory surrounded by violins, mandolin, acoustic guitars and lo-fi kitchen production. Though intimate, these songs are large in their emotional scope, chronicling a world-weariness tempered with beauty shot through by Zedek's emotional if lethargic vocals. Zedek's covers of Lou Reed's "Candy" and Dylan's You're a Big Girl Now are empathetically perfect, while her own songs retain the power of her early work but with a newfound, oddly life-affirming embrace. --Ken Micallef



Come's "hiatus" seemed more like an obituary with each passing year and Thalia Zedek's sonic reinvention on her quietly moving solo album, 2001's Been Here and Gone, was the official notice that Zedek had moved beyond the need for howling guitar dementia. On her six-track, 30-minute EP, You're a Big Girl Now, Zedek continues to explore nuanced DIY bedroom pop with the edgy elements that defined the Velvet Underground's similar application to uptown art-damaged gallery rock nearly four decades ago. As a reference point, Zedek covers the VU's "Candy Says," absorbing the song into her own approach. The same treatment with a slightly more muscular arrangement awaits Bob Dylan's "You're a Big Girl Now," as Zedek inbues the Dylan classic with the emotionally ragged delivery of Patti Smith and P.J. Harvey.

Zedek's originals form the foundation that ably supports inclusion of the instantly recognizable and potentially distracting covers by making a symbiotic atmosphere where they all can co-exist. As Zedek interprets her cover choices in her own fashion, she channels the spirits of the VU and Dylan in her originals, as evidenced by the anthemic dirge "No Fire," the Dylanesque ode "Everything Unkind" and the mournful ballad "No Substitutions." Throughout the EP, the interplay between Zedek's casually forceful guitar, Mel Lederman's lilting piano and David Michael Curry's soothingly keening viola combine for an air of deliberate improvisation. Whether You're a Big Girl Now cements Zedek's direction toward this quiet electric reflection remains to be seen, but it's a safe bet that she is content to set herself as a moving sonic target. -Brian Baker


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