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The Boston Phoenix Working Women

Amy Rigby and Laurie Lindeen

By Charles Taylor

OCTOBER 12, 1998:  Amy Rigby is pissed off: about having to bust her hump in a crappy job for crappy pay; about men no longer giving her the once-over; about having to shop the markdown rack while rich people with no flair get to wear things that would look better on her; about not being able to get laid because she's got a kid to take care of; about there being no gas in the car; about being an adult and having to live like a student. And if you don't like it, you can go take a flying fuck.

The single most bracing thing about Rigby's second solo album, Middlescence (Koch), is her absolute refusal to stifle her grievances, to distinguish the major ones from the minor ones, or to think that maybe there are more important things happening somewhere else in the world. Or as Rachel Sweet sang 20 years ago in the voice of a bratty high-school girl, "People are starvin' in India/Fightin' in Baghdad/We don't care."

As on 1996's Diary of a Mod Housewife, though, Rigby's complaints are anything but insular. There may be people in their 30s who don't identify with the note-perfect delineations of the workaday grind in song's like Housewife's "The Good Girls" or the new "Raising the Bar." But they'd have to be people who've never held the type of job that makes you wake up in the morning nauseated at the thought of going in; or the sort who never wake up in the middle of the night wondering how they're going to pay rent and utilities. That, I think, still leaves plenty of us to appreciate Amy Rigby. The vitriol of "Raising the Bar" transcends any possibility of self-pity, and yet Rigby lets you hear this resentment simmering beneath the surface, under the compliant face she presents to her employers. It should sound familiar to anyone who's ever found him- or herself smiling in an office cubicle, wondering, "How the fuck did I get here?" "I'm trying/They're all watching me -- sweat/I'm living on no money/I'm wonderin' what am I gonna -- get?", Rigby sings, biting down on "sweat" and "get" like a steel trap snapping shut on an ankle.

Rigby writes from the point of view of a single mother in her 30s, but the best numbers on Middlescence transcend age and gender. The domestic details, like the woman in "What I Need" who brings a potential lover into the den because there's unfolded laundry on her bed and then sends him home because it doesn't feel right with her kids asleep a few rooms away, are the sort of things contemporary country music should have the wit and grit to tackle. Rigby's great subject is how you translate the rebellion of youth to the start of middle age. She wants the freedom of her 20s without giving up what she knows now. Her clearest message is that the need for rock and roll -- as both music and attitude -- doesn't lessen with age, and that knowing what not to be satisfied with is as crucial as learning what to compromise on.

Middlescence gets it right about three-quarters of the time. Some of the songs stray toward a preciousness that does not become Rigby, but even on a too-whimsical tune like "Calling Professor Longhair" she works in a few wonderfully unsensible details like "I wanna drink and drive" and -- bless her -- "Oh, God, I love tobacco." And the sound of Middlescence is sometimes uncanny. "What I Need" plays like a version of Cher's "You Better Sit Down Kids" where the mother decides to stick around, as produced by Magical Mystery Tour-era George Martin.

Laurie Lindeen could probably swap great stories with Rigby about some of the bumpier territory each has traveled. Lindeen was the singer, guitarist, and chief songwriter in the ace Minneapolis band ZuZu's Petals, who split after their terrific 1994 CD The Music of Your Life received a cursory distribution by TwinTone. Lindeen (who has also written a novel) has come back to recording with a sonic charmer of an EP called A Pregnant Pause (Soundproof).

She doesn't bound out of the gate here as she did with the Petals -- the aural touchstone for A Pregnant Pause is the melancholy corner of mid-'60s pop, especially the stuff hovering on the edge of psychedelia. Her band consists of John Eller, Semisonic's John Munson and Jack Slichter, and Paul Westerberg (a/k/a Grandpaboy). Throughout, she anchors the gentle, almost wafting quality of the numbers with solid, gutsy details, the ominous bass lines that open "Lies," the fuzztone on "Cool Me Down," the guitar wailing in the background of a lovely cover of the Bee Gees' "Come to Me." She has wonderful taste in covers.

The spirit of the EP is captured on the folkish cover of Herman's Hermits' "Don't Go Out in the Rain." Lindeen's voice is as warm as the fire she promises the guy she's trying to get to stay. The Hermits' original was a variation on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" sung by a horny teen elated to find that he and his girlfriend have his parents' house to themselves for a few hours. As Lindeen sings it, it could be kids or roommates who've left her and her honey alone. She turns it into a wonderfully sweet seduction song about rekindling what just trying to get through the day knocks out of you. It can stand as the essence, in miniature, of how both Lindeen and Rigby understand rock and roll as something that grows with you, and a refusal to see it as something you outgrow.

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