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Alice Austin, To a Star in the Yard

Album Review


Published June 10, 2009 at 6:11 a.m.


(Cotton Pony, CD)

Once upon a time, Burlington’s Zola Turn was widely presumed to be the next big thing to come out of Vermont, following in the footsteps of other successful local acts such as Belizbeha and, of course, Phish. Forged in the midst of Burlington’s much-ballyhooed 1990s alt-rock heyday, the group made national waves during its seven-year run, signing with Gold Circle Records and scoring a distribution deal with Sony-BMG. But major-label bliss was short lived. In 2001 Gold Circle dumped the band — all of its rock acts, actually — and Zola Turn called it quits the following year.

The group’s front woman, Alice Austin — now based in Cambridge, Mass. — has gone on to modest success, playing with regional acts such as The Lavas and Queen Tangerine. But the sort of national acclaim she achieved with Zola Turn has proven elusive. However, should her old fans get wind of her new solo album, To a Star in the Yard, that stands a fighting chance of changing.

On the whole, the album is a striking collection of alt-rock gems that will no doubt inspire bouts of wistful nostalgia among those who remember the era fondly. That is not to say Austin is stuck in a flannel-lined rut. Rather, she simply embraces her roots, dated though they may be. Refreshingly, she imbues her music with the no-frills sensibility that was a hallmark of the genre — and by extension, Zola Turn — both sonically and lyrically. Or put another way, you can take Siouxsie Sioux out of the Banshees, but you can’t take the banshee out of Siouxsie Sioux. And in case you were wondering, Austin still wails.

From slow-burning album opener “Wings to Me” through tracks such as bottom-heavy scorcher “Never Cry Halo” and the sneering “Sharp Side of the Knife,” Austin proves she’s still a force. What’s more, she seems to have matured as a lyricist. While never lacking for poetic grit, she manages to temper her observations with a subtle intimacy heretofore unseen, at least in the Zola Turn catalog. The result is startling, especially on cuts such as the bruising, Blackhearts-esque rocker “Vicarious” and swooning album closer “Blink and We Miss.”