THALIA ZEDEK

"Trust Not Those In Whom Without Some Touch of Madness"

Thrill Jockey

BROTHER JT

"Off Blue"

Birdman

Life is a cabaret, albeit a gloomy one, for singer-songwriter and indie band vet Thalia Zedek, who has been around since the early '80s, performing with Dangerous Birds, Uzi, Live Skull and Come. Her latest solo release is somber, poetic and sometimes unnerving, not far removed from the music of Leonard Cohen, an obvious influence, though more cutting and dissonant, right down to the final, scathing track "Hell Is in Hello."

Unlike the CD's title -- apparently, the product of a fortune-cookie factory malfunction -- Zedek's lyrics are seldom puzzling. She writes about fear, loss, betrayal and hope with biting clarity, even though some of her best songs, such as "Ship," "Bus Stop" and "Bone," have a meditative or spiritual slant. Now and then Zedek rudely punctuates her world-weary vocals with discordant guitar work, or indulges in a little twang. But mostly she relies on drummer Daniel Coughlin and violist David Michael Curry to modulate the album's frequently haunting moods.

Brother JT's "Off Blue" is a hushed and often engaging collection of ballads by a singer-songwriter who clearly enjoys combining heart, innocence and humor. That much is obvious on the opening cut "Son of Man," the first of several songs that sound as if they were composed when the age of flower power was blooming. It's not every day, after all, you stumble across someone crooning, "And should I be inclined to nuzzle / Please don't call the fuzz / Everybody was somebody's baby once." Though the whispered vocals become tiresome at times, "Off Blue" ultimately delivers enough offbeat, guitar-tinted treats to quietly stand out.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Sunday at Iota. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Thalia Zedek, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8129; to hear Brother JT, press 8130. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)