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Amy Rigby Maintains Her Punk Mischievousness On 'The Old Guys'


This is FRESH AIR. Amy Rigby, who called her 1996 debut "Diary Of A Mod Housewife," is now an empty-nester who no longer defines herself by domestic chores. "The Old Guys" is the first new Amy Rigby album since 2005, and rock critic Ken Tucker says the album finds her looking back without undue sentiment.


AMY RIGBY: (Singing) There'll never be another you. There'll never be another you - one off. There'll never be another you.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: With its jangly guitars and thumping drums, "The Old Guys" is, I suppose, an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll album, but it's not a nostalgia item. Nostalgia is an essentially conservative, sentimental impulse, one that conflicts with clear-headed realism. And nostalgia is something Rigby admirably avoids, as can be heard on this song called "Are We Still There Yet."


RIGBY: (Singing) When you're around, it's like the '90s all over again. It's not the way that you dress. It's just the way that you are. You talk about the past. It went so far, we didn't see it end. I want to do it again. I want to get in your car and turn the radio off so we can choose between CD and cassette. When blue was a clue and we knew what we knew 'cause there was less to forget. Was it you that once said, are we still there yet? Are we still there yet?

TUCKER: Rigby leads off this collection with her most ambitious new song. It's an email Rigby imagines Philip Roth sending to Bob Dylan on the occasion of Dylan's winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Rigby sings in the voice of Roth, who has scandalously never won the Nobel himself. It's a terrific song that serves to summarize Rigby's own views about the quiet heroism of making art alone in a room, not thinking about the audience waiting outside. The song is titled "From PhilipRoth@gmail To RZimmerman@aol.com"


RIGBY: (Singing) As you step out onto that Nobel stage, spare a thought for the man who wavers on the page. When you're standing in the spotlight, where you've always been, I'll be alone with a pen, alone with a pen.

TUCKER: In addition to her imagining communiques between Roth and Dylan, there's a line in "Back From Amarillo" about how she's running out of time to do the things I want. The song "Are We Still There Yet" recalls a time when, quote, "there was less to forget." The title song is the most obvious example of Rigby's mindset. While she wisely avoids the aging person's temptation to scoff at the callowness of youth, she pays more respect to those older than her without losing her punk mischievousness.


RIGBY: (Singing) Still taking risks, I keep my hand in a fist. Punch out the lights of the next so-and-so. Had my eyes on the prize. When it was time to revise, I set my sets near the middle or somewhere below. I tip my hat to the old guys, say thanks for that to the old guys.

TUCKER: This album is characterized by a studiously raw sound achieved by no more than three players on any given track. It features ringing production from Eric Goulden, better known to fans of '70s punk as Wreckless Eric. He is also Rigby's husband. And he's also the creator of his own excellent new album which will be released at the end of March. Rigby fills her new collection with lots of amusing and emotionally-appropriate cultural references. There's an entire song called "Robert Altman" and another called "New Sheriff" in which we discover that Amy has been watching a lot of TV like "Breaking Bad" and "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Sopranos."


RIGBY: (Singing) And whatever goes around is sure to come back around. They say the justice can be swift and sometimes blind. Try to give peace a chance, but that's a lesson for another time. There's something rotten in this x. And everybody has a (unintelligible). Today, that (unintelligible) piece of work is going down. In my mind, I'm Nucky Thompson. In my mind, I'm Tony Soprano. In my mind, I'm Walter White.

TUCKER: If you like what you're hearing, I also recommend that you go to her blog called Diary of Amy Rigby. There the author shares stories of her day-to-day life working in a bookstore/coffee shop, pays her respects to Tom Petty and searches for a certain brand of shampoo - you know, ordinary stuff, stuff that requires an artist like Amy Rigby to make vivid and funny and true.

BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Amy Rigby's new album "The Old Guys." On Monday's show, New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman tells us about becoming a target of neo-Nazi trolls on Twitter who barraged him with anti-Semitic insults and threats. In his new book, "(((Semitism))): Being Jewish In America In The Age Of Trump," he wrestles with how to respond to white nationalists and looks at the connections between them and the Trump campaign and administration. Hope you can join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.