The cover of Robin Aigner’s Bandito says a lot about what’s inside, and that boils down to a nice sense of ambiguity. At first, the imagery of a rabbit preparing to go trick-or-treating is cute and a little bit funny, but the image is a little disturbing as well, especially the bird on the back of the chair – perhaps an allusion to a crow lighting upon a tombstone? It depends on the perspective of the viewer, perhaps, but there, at least, is room for various interpretations and this is an important distinction to make. The folk/Americana/acoustic multiverse has, as of late, embraced bigness: as in big love, big hate, big revenge, and any small details that manage to creep in are just afterthoughts getting to the big chorus. In Aigner’s musical world, largess is the frame in which to better study those oft overlooked things.
For example, the disc’s opening track, “Pearl Polly Adler,” has a dry, genteel flow to it, augmented with a touch of violin, a rolling piano line and Aigner’s voice in harmony with herself, but the song is about the notorious emigre who wound up running a brothel fronted by Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz in the early 1920s. “Annie And Irving” mixes fact and fiction in a tale of the first Ellis Island immigrant and her romance with Irving Berlin. The timeline doesn’t support the storytelling, but this really isn’t about reporting. To me, it’s more about the connections that form between strangers in a strange place, and it’s quite possible that Berlin is more a symbol of how someone who was the farthest from a native born American now is recognized for his contributions, oddly enough the staples of “The Great American Songbook.”
While Aigner is a part of the folk tradition of historical representation, which was always the cornerstone of the style although newcomers write in past tense while their forefathers were strictly in their present, she also has songs standing in the here and now. “See You Around” dances with the usual topic of a relationship seemingly coming undone, but unlike the usual tales of misery and vandalism, her approach is more complex. While one might interpret the protagonist as mourning this love that has failed, there are hints that she’s the one saying the goodbyes. That this shift of perspective is carried off without the standard melodrama helps advance the tune from the ordinary heartbreak fare. On the lighter side, “Get Me Home” plays fast and loose with clever wordplay and double entendre, but again, you’ll have to work a little bit to scan those hidden meanings. Aigner’s not up for giving the game away with easy bulletpoints.
The song that really caught me was “Found,” as its melody is extremely easy to get hooked on, and the lyrical conceit that one’s loss often turns into another’s gain has seldom been carried off so subtly, rejecting the cheap “finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers” sentiment. The album as a whole is, by today’s standard, extremely compact, crossing the line short of 40 minutes. However, it all seems to hang together as a piece and I suspect that any additions would have seemed like filler. In this, Robin Aigner’s Bandito has the effect of leaving you wanting more instead of wishing there had been less. In the field with everything being so damned big, the best trick she pulls off is letting the whole be just the right size.
Bandito is available from CD Baby.
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