AMY RIGBY The Old Guys

Emails to Dy­lan and odes to groupies in this ex­cel­lent come­back al­bum. By Peter Watts

UNCUT - - New Albums -

AMY Rigby is a song­writer who needs a theme, some­thing to kick against, an idea or con­cept that she can bounce around and tackle from a dozen dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. The Old Guys is about look­ing back at peo­ple and places, par­tic­u­larly the he­roes and hero­ines who have in­spired her. In the wrong hands that could turn into a tire­some and wor­thy list of in­flu­ences, but Rigby is too smart, hon­est and witty a writer to fall into that trap – this is, af­ter all, some­body who once wrote a song with the ti­tle “Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?”. In­stead, she imag­ines an email from Philip Roth to Robert Zim­mer­man, cel­e­brates groupies, dreams of be­ing Wal­ter White, writes a touch­ing trib­ute to an ex-boyfriend and has a dig at her home­town of Pitts­burgh (“Andy Warhol’s dead and in the ground, it’s the only way they can get him back to town”).

It’s been more than a decade since Rigby’s last solo al­bum. A mem­ber of Mata­dor-signed ’90s trio The Shams, she re­leased her de­but solo al­bum, the ex­cel­lent Diary Of A Mod House­wife, in 1996 and pro­duced five more LPs over the next decade. She wrote about her life as she got older, scru­ti­n­is­ing her de­vel­op­ment through her thir­ties and for­ties, off­set­ting the dis­com­fort with self-aware hu­mour. Then in 2006 she teamed up with (Wreck­less) Eric Goulden and moved to France to “grow veg­eta­bles”. The pair re­leased three al­bums to­gether but Rigby’s sin­gu­lar voice dis­ap­peared, even af­ter the cou­ple re­turned to the US. It was the song “The Old Guys” that in­spired Rigby’s come­back. It was recorded when drum­mer Greg Rober­son of Reign­ing Sound was work­ing with Wreck­less Eric and asked if Rigby had any­thing they could record. She had “The Old Guys” up her sleeve, and the ex­pe­ri­ence of record­ing it prompted her to com­plete an al­bum. The ti­tle song is the the­matic cen­tre­piece of an al­bum about age and ex­pe­ri­ence, places you’ve been, peo­ple you’ve lost, dreams you have for­got­ten, artists you have loved.

The theme is fleshed out over the sur­round­ing tracks. “Robert Alt­man” is an in­ti­mate love song to the film di­rec­tor set against a wist­ful melody em­bel­lished with the strange Mel­lotron-like sounds of the Swar­ma­tron, an in­stru­ment made by her friend and neigh­bour Brian De­wan. Its sense of re­serve con­trasts with the Spring­steen/Spec­tor vibe of open­ing track “From [email protected] to rz­im­mer­[email protected]”. Big chim­ing gui­tars in­tro­duce space and depth, re­flect­ing the am­bi­tion of the con­tent – an email from Philip Roth to Bob Dy­lan writ­ten af­ter the lat­ter won the No­bel Prize for lit­er­a­ture, which ex­plores the na­ture of writ­ing and au­di­ence, cre­ation and per­for­mance, envy and re­spect. It sounds great, par­tic­u­larly when you con­sider the al­bum was recorded at Rigby and Goulden’s home stu­dio. Rigby credits Goulden with cre­at­ing the crisp, clean sound – the ghost of Stiff looms large – while mu­si­cal sup­port comes from a ro­tat­ing cast of drum­mers. Goulden is able to get a lot of sound out of a small team and in­for­mal space; on piledriv­ing al­bum fi­nale “One Off” he builds a scaf­fold of fuzzy gui­tar and soar­ing har­mon­ica around Rigby’s strong vo­cal. The acous­tic “Slow Burner” has a back­wards, Ra­dio­head feel while “On The Bar­ri­cade” has bursts of pas­sive-ag­gres­sive gui­tar.

Rigby’s he­roes aren’t just big names like Roth, Dy­lan and Alt­man. Some of them aren’t even real – on the clang­ing “New Sher­iff” she has re­venge fan­tasies in which she reimag­ines her­self as Walt White, Tony So­prano or Nucky Thomp­son when “some sack of shit crosses the line”. She also sings about place on “Play­ing Pitts­burgh”, an ex­cel­lent song about the “home­town blues”, with Rigby us­ing hu­mour to salve the salti­ness as she re­mem­bers the “the mem­o­ries” and sense of am­bi­tion that sent her to New York: “I’m play­ing Pitts­burgh tonight... I came to share my gift; but I feel like Car­rie be­fore the bucket slipped.”

Two of the best mo­ments come when she delves into per­sonal his­tory. “Bob” is a beau­ti­ful trib­ute to the long-lost boyfriend who in­tro­duced her to the CBGB scene. It fea­tures a suit­ably melan­choly horn ac­com­pa­ni­ment and the re­frain “I can’t help think­ing about you when I hear this kind of song – happy sad, happy sad.” More up­beat is the dream­like psych of “Les­lie”, a cel­e­bra­tion of back­stage women who have “no ex-lovers, just ad­di­tional ones”. Writ­ten more in awe than judg­ment, it’s an ex­am­ple of how Rigby can ap­proach a fa­mil­iar sub­ject and make it seem fresh and in­ter­est­ing thanks to her wis­dom, fresh per­spec­tive and gift for ar­rest­ing cou­plets.

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