It goes without saying that much of what we’ve been missing throughout this coronavirus purgatory of no live music is community — the face-to-face camaraderie, the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses, the bonding warmth of hugs, the immediacy of music experienced in live form. Listening to “Magic” from Emily Zuzik’s just-released album “Torch & Trouble” spurs recollections of hearing it live in recent years at the Blue Guitar, Coffee Gallery Backstage and Matt Denny’s, among other venues, watching audience heads bob, and witnessing the song expand over time with balmy harmonies and a deeper soul groove.
“It had grown so much in my live shows that I felt it was stronger,” the Pennsylvania native says of “Magic,” previously recorded for her 2009 EP “Jagged Life,” “and I wanted to redo it. A lot of the other tunes had been recorded in some form of glorified demo but never fully realized, so I wanted to go back to those too.”
“Chinese Food and Donuts” is another older song that Zuzik had been dusting off and introducing with relatable stories before the pandemic shut down clubs and postponed her album’s release. Burnished by John Schreffler’s electric guitar and Brian Whelan’s Hammond organ, it finds Zuzik’s protagonist searching for signs and portents in a late-night diner menu (“Johnny’s food and donuts/ On a cold wet LA night/ Maybe my luck will start changing/ If I just get the order right.”) “Embers,” a relatively recent co-write and country-flavored duet with producer Ted Russell Kamp, finds them reflecting how “new relationships have the spark and the fire; old relationships have the slow burn of the ember, and the little things mean the big things.”
The album rolls from the AM pop grooves of “Magic” through Americana balladry, dream pop, Western story songs and swaggering rock. “This was a way of trying to put only select songs that were in this sort of umbrella of American music. For me, that means rock, it means blues, it means soul, it means jazz, all of these things.”
It also means a sultry cover of Yo La Tengo’s “Shadows” that fulfills the album title’s “Torch” promise. Zuzik approached the song, which she’d wanted to record for years, as a jazz-inflected standard from the ’40s.
“I always find it interesting when people say the album is very diverse,” she says with a chuckle. In the past she’s sung with Blue Man Group and Moby, collaborated on electro-pop recordings with Tedeschi Trucks bassist Tim Lefebvre, and made several solo pop-rock EPs and albums. “For me, it’s the most disciplined album I’ve ever made.”
Sequestered at home in Glassell Park with her husband and daughter, Zuzik has been making creative videos, live-streaming performances, and promoting “Torch & Trouble” through podcasts and social media platforms where she can “talk about the journey” as an artist and human being.
“I don’t know when things are going to ‘return to normal,’ or what the new normal’s going to be. So, I just have to hang in there and have faith that people are hungry for it.”n
To learn more about the artist, visit emilyzuzik.com