Thalia Zedek – Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch of Madness

Thalia Zedek
Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch of Madness

There’s an unspoken humility in all good blues music that negates the tendency or necessity to prove one’s authenticity – if it ain’t there, you can’t buy it or appropriate it. There are certain voices that manage to accurately document a map of a life led negotiating the balance between agony and ecstasy, as well as madness and wisdom. Whether it’s Skip James’ haunting falsetto, Tom Waits’ chain-smoking rasp, or Thalia Zedek’s cathartic growl, the blues seeks solace in redemption and joy, not self-pity or bitterness.

Spanning almost 20 years with such bands as Uzi, Live Skull, and Come, Thalia Zedek has become fluent in the redemptive language of the blues, albeit channelled through indie-rock’s lens. Her second solo album Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch of Madness, and first for the Thrill Jockey label, is one of her most assured and intimate records to date. Much of her recent work with Come veered on the side of cathartic desperation, a longing to cast out certain demons of love and lust as well as tacit allusions to drug use. The results were often stunning, as they were harrowing – most notably on 1996’s Near Life Experience.

Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch of Madness is part ruminations on the departure of love and part romantic folk tales. Much of Zedek’s veiled references to the shame and fruitless pursuit of dealing with drugs and life spent in metaphoric gutters has given way to a sense of wisdom and moving on in life. This is more than likely due to coming out the other end of the aforementioned abyss. The new album illustrates an added layer of lyrical maturity and depth of sound, even while bearing the initial conspicuous absence of long-time collaborator Chris Brokaw. Recorded in Montreal at the Hotel2Tango, the new album creates an impressive minimal, yet spatial clarity, with a lean guitar/violin/drums trio of Zedek, David Michael Curry of Willard Grant Conspiracy on strings, and drummer Daniel Coughlin.

It’s partly the absence of bass guitar and Howard Bilerman’s robust recording that gives this stripped-down trio an incredible immediacy reminiscent of the Dirty Three. You can hear this most on the songs “Angels” and especially “Island Song”. Elsewhere, you’ll find glimpses of Nick Cave on “Since Then”, and hints of Willard Grant Conspiracy on the songs “Bus Stop” and “Bone.” By the time “Hell is in Hello” closes the album in a maelstrom of feedback, violin squall, and crashing percussion, you get the feeling of having just read someone’s memoir. This is interesting and relieving, considering that much of Zedek’s past work had the feel of reading a living epitaph.

Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch of Madness is an album that illustrates coming to terms with life from someone, who has in the past, found only fleeting glimpses of survival, exorcising ghosts, and wrestling with demons.