AMY RIGBY MATERIALIZED in 1996 like an Ancient Mariner in a miniskirt, gripping the unwilling shoulders of young hipsters and prophesying a future of temp drudgery, single motherhood, and the coming of that moment when voluntary poverty begins to feel less romantic and more like, well, genuine poverty. Yet her debut, Diary of a Mod Housewife, sounded less like a dispatch from the apocalypse than a description of a lifestyle that could be workable and redeeming, if a bit troublesome. Besides, she still looked plenty fetching in that skirt. Rigby even spun a happy ending in a chronicle of her on-again/off-again marriage to ex-dBs drummer Will Rigby, though the couple split permanently immediately after the record's release.
Luckily, Rigby hasn't learned much from whatever mistakes she's made in the interim--she's even dating another (apparently oblivious) drummer, a state of affairs that ensures she'll never receive the romantic devotion she craves, even if it does allow her to joke, "Tonight I'm gonna give the drummer some." (Talk about suffering for your art.)
Guided by Elliot Easton's production, Middlescence occasionally strays from Rigby's comfort zone of twice-removed country-folk into the fascination with novelty songs that often afflicts folkies who've discovered the wonders of studio effects. "As Is" ruins a poignant discourse on the joys and indignities of discount-rack browsing with a tourist's take on calypso. But the Stereolab-ready Moog music of "Laboratory of Love" complements Rigby's wry mix of the clinical and vernacular ("Were you to relax approximate to my location/Do you think the time would be well spent?")
"Surveys indicate/Our natural tendency to mate/Satisfies the needs, negates the wants," she continues on "Laboratory of Love," and her confusion between needs and wants is always at the center of her emotional hurricane. "All I Want" demands "for you to tell me that you're liking the dress I'm in/Not criticize me for being a mess again." "What I Need" is more humble, with Rigby wishing she could get her daughter out of the picture until her date heads home. What Rigby wants is what she needs, and she's made that equation of desire and necessity artistically viable--it may even be the stuff of a potential career. The charming frailty of her upper range might not wash with a broad audience that prefers soaring clarity, but were Rigby to license her autobiographies to some poppily open-minded accomplice (come on over, Shania), Nashville's debt-ridden-divorced-mom market might well profit.
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