Sunday, March 04, 2007

Favorite (Belated) Discovery: Amy Rigby

I don't know how I managed to miss Amy Rigby when she first debuted as a solo artist a decade ago, but I've been spending the past few months making up for lost time. She'd kicked around in a couple NYC indie bands in the late '80's and early '90's, but took some time off for marriage & a kid. Her solo debut, 1996's wonderful Diary Of A Mod Housewife, captures her divorce-in-progress (from dB's drummer Will Rigby) with some of the most funny, touching, and memorable lyrics of love & loss this side of the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt. It falls mostly in a jangly vein, though with lyrics like "don't look at me in that tone of voice," she blows most of what comes out of Nashville off the map. Country vibe aside, the album's all over the place, from 60's girl-group pop ("The Good Girls") to Mountain Goats-styled acoustic earnestness ("Knapsack") to a punkish two-chord vamp a la "Sister Ray"/"Roadrunner" ("That Tone Of Voice"). Highlight: "20 Questions," a "Subterranean Homesick Blues" knock-off in which the wronged woman berates her drunken, wayward man with, yes, 20 questions -- and you're on her side until the questions start devolving into "and by the way, when are you gonna get a real job?" and maybe you feel for the guy just a bit. Other highlight: The weepie relationship tell-all "Beer & Kisses," one of many Rigby songs that gets me teary-eyed. (Hey, I'm not afraid to admit it.)

Not surprisingly, none of her four subsequent albums had quite the start-to-finish perfection of Mod Housewife, though the follow-up (1998's Middlescence) comes close. Still, she has continued to come up with at least a handful of drop-dead wonderful songs each go-round; if some of the lesser album tracks occasionally slip into the standard folk-pop territory better left to the Sheryl Crows and Sarah McLachlan's of the world, they're more than compensated for by the stand-out tracks. Hell, "Dancing With Joey Ramone" (from 2005's Little Fugitive) alone buys her another decade of goodwill. Stand out tracks from her later albums include the unbelievably touching "Don't Ever Change" (from 2003's Til The Wheels Fall Off) -- another one that gets me crying. As an avowed cynic, I should scoff at a chorus that goes "Hey, I love, you, you're perfect, don't ever change" -- but it's rendered so perfectly I just can't, and the lyrics are enough to compensate for borrowing the riff from "Speeding Motorcycle." And then you've got the more upbeat and laugh-out-loud funny "Balls" and "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again" (from 2000's Sugar Tree and Wheels, respectively).

[For a look at my personal compilation of Amy's best, check out Art of the Mix.]

Anyway, check her out. Also, be sure to stop by Amy's blog, where she documents life as an American expatriate living in France (with boyfriend Wreckless Eric, of Stiff Records fame).


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