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Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby - A Working Museum

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Artist: Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby

Album: A Working Museum

Label: Southern Domestic

Review date: Oct. 22, 2012

“Do You Remember That?,” the final song on this third Wreckless Eric (Goulden) and Amy Rigby album, tells the story of how the unlikely pair became a couple. It starts with Rigby covering “Whole Wide World” at a club in Hull with its author in the audience, glances over the tentative beginnings (“Everyone said I should stay away from you, but I didn’t listen”), remembers early bonding over music (“We played guitars, sang ‘Me and Bobby McGee’”) and describes a disastrous first show as a duo (“Together we were crap, do you remember that?”). The song is like a more entertaining version of listening to your parents telling you the story of how they first met, except that it rhymes and follows a melody that sticks in your head. And in a way, that’s what Goulden and Rigby do best: translate the medium-sized, particular events of their shared lives into songs. The most intricate, personal details are presented with the ends tucked in and the syllables lined up. It sounds effortless, as if they’d found the lyrics this way, as if all life happened in rhyming verse.

Of course it doesn’t. Life is messy and confusing and very seldom carries a tune. You have to put it down to skill, a skill so worn-in that both principles have probably forgotten about it, like the rest of us forget that we’re breathing. The two of them are just so good at shoving life into one end of the process and extracting ultra-specific — and yet somehow universal — songs from the other.

Both Goulden and Rigby are lifers, people who had a glimpse of mainstream success early on (Goulden as one of Stiff Records’ first signings, Amy as the Mod Housewife hope of acerbic alt.country). Both continued on after the hype faded, on a smaller, self-supported scale, for the love (or maybe more accurately the necessity) of the game. They did meet in Hull, when Goulden came up to critique Rigby’s cover. They did fall in love, though, in talking to either of them, you get the sense that their together-ness as a band is at least as important as their together-ness as a couple. This is the third album, but only the second of original material (2010’s Two-Way Family Favorites was a charming, musically omnivorous collection of covers).

Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby have been making records together for only about five years (the self-titled came out in 2008), but here, perhaps, is the benefit of being in love. In the harmonies, in the interplay between Goulden’s power chording electric and Rigby’s strummy plugged-in acoustic, in the way they slip counterpoints into one another’s songs, they sound like they’ve always known each other. Their voices are quite different, Goulden’s a weathered, side-of-the-mouth croak, Rigby’s a fluty, mountain-tinged alto. Yet, when they twine together, as in the delicate, madrigal-ish counterparts of “Sombreros in the Airport,” they seem to melt into one another. The two voices are in tune, in every sense of the word.

A Working Museum is mostly just the two of them, though Chris Butler comes in to play live drums on a handful of tracks (“A Darker Shade of Brown,” “The Doubt” “Days of Jack and Jill”). Even so the sound is surprisingly diverse, thickened with lots of different keyboards, some bass and a fair amount of electronic manipulation. It’s not entirely clear who wrote which songs, and I’m not sure you can tell by who is currently singing lead. (At one point, Rigby sings about being seven times as old as the other, and I’m pretty sure she’s younger.) Yet, you can hear bits of what you like in both of them here. Like “Whole Wide World,” “The Doubt” starts in a quiet, ticking tension, then erupts into power-chorded rambunctiousness. Rigby’s “Rebel Girl, Rebel Girl” is as sharp-edged, literate and countrified as anything from her heyday. And the slow-strutting “Zero to Minus One” has the weathered defiance, the slantwise punk anthemry common to Goulden and others of his generation (The Mekons especially).

As older musicians, used to disappointment and a bit stunned by their happy ending, the two stick to subjects close to hand: aging, music and love. Goulden’s “Days of Jack and Jill” recounts days at his grandparent’s shop, having tea next door in the winter, two years before the Beatles and, for all practical purpose, an eternity ago. “The walls that surround me, they’re not the same walls, the floor that I stood on, it’s not the same floor,” he sings in his creaky tenor, and finally, “I could never imagine a 57-year-old me, sitting under a flat screen stirring my tea.” Nor, judging from “Do You Remember That?” could either one of them imagine finding a soul-mate so late and so successfully. Life is funny. In the right hands, it makes great songs.

By Jennifer Kelly

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