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Signature Sounds

One line in a lifelong friend’s e-mail had me cranky for a week: “What does anyone our age need with an iPod?” As if iPods play only recordings made in this millennium? As if listening to music loses its relevance when that first gray hair comes in? Or as if she and I weren’t chronological peers of such iTunes-ready artists as Michael Stipe and Henry Rollins—and Amy Rigby. For Rigby, being over 40 means having over twice as much material to draw on than two 20-year-olds. “Rasputin,” which opens her fifth album, Little Fugitive, is a self-tribute of sorts: Against an insistent, two-beat backing that includes sleigh bells amid its arsenal, she notes that, in the Reagan era, “I had miniskirts and lashes/Life reduced this girl to ashes.” By the chorus, she declares, “I’m like Rasputin”—a Pittsburgh native, she pronounces it “Raspyew-din”—“I get back up again.” Two tracks later, she’s reminiscing about “dancing with Joey Ramone” in a lite-punk number (bashy drums, fuzzed-out electric guitar, hand claps) that would have been perfect if she and co-producer Jon Graboff could have resisted that high-speed, three-chord coda. Rigby is seldom that literal-minded on Little Fugitives; more often, she blends her influences idiosyncratically. The artist, who with Last Roundup in the early ’80s was alt-country when alt-country was still really alt-, tries enough styles here that you might think she’s still searching for one. But the laconic delivery, sharp lyrics, and unexpected viewpoints make each of them wholly hers. “So You Know Now” wafts up a ’60s-psychedelic haze, over which Rigby intones, “She never meant to do you wrong/But you just hadn’t come along” before switching the blame: “You never meant to do her wrong.” “That’s the Time” is a slightly hymnlike love song worthy of Dolly Parton, about the transformative power of the love of a good man and written with an eye for human frailty. Among the times it celebrates are “When he’s saying things that he said before/And I act like I’m impressed.” Best of all is “The Trouble With Jeanie”—and not only because it coincidentally evokes the name of my iPod-doubting friend. In this droll, folky number, Rigby laments, “Would somebody explain to me this modern life?” after discovering she likes her husband’s ex. “I must admit I don’t know how I’m supposed to act,” she sings. “She’s hugging me instead of stabbing my back.” When I trade my 8-track player in for an iPod, it’s the first thing I’m getting the neighbor boy to upload for me. —Pamela Murray Winters