I’ve determined that I could not listen to Robin Aigner sing the telephone book.
I suppose the general usage of this verbal chestnut is meant to be complimentary, and heaven help me, I may have used it in that manner once or twice before, and for this I dutifully repent. While it is all backpats and smiles on the surface, the statement would also indicate a level of benign ignorance. “It doesn’t matter what you sing, ’cause you sure sound pretty.” That behavior falls straight down when you are discussing Robin Aigner because if you are only listening to her voice — and it is indeed pretty — you’re missing at least half the charm of her work, exemplified in her new album Con Tender.
Part of the fun is Aigner’s clever, thready lyrics that slip little hints, subtle digs, and inventive wordplay into the mix of folk via New Orleans jazz. When she sings of taking advantage of a guy while he’s vulnerable on “Kiss Him When He’s Down,” itself a turning of the tables, she slips in the tastefully salacious phrase, “I’d rather fork than spoon.” That same mix of the demure and debauched comes through on “Your Candy’s No Good For Me” later on the album. The song “Shoegazer” is the narrative of a woman who is feeling a tad awkward well after the awkward phase, and her eyes stay cast down to regard her high-heel boots. Taken on that level alone, to pass the lyrics aside is positively criminal.
But then you get into Aigner’s classic voice, lightly dramatic when it needs to be, filled with portent but not with smothering “technique.” She knows when to work the note, but just as importantly, when to let the note stand. It’s the moments when she lingers on a thought that are the most magnetic because she’s daring you to think about it, as if to say, “I know what you heard me say, but what do you think I meant?” Even if you removed that deeper layer of intimate and literate wordcraft, you are left with a voice that is just gorgeous to listen to, and confident enough to leave space between you, the listener, and her, the singer.
I want to reiterate, for those who will inevitably see the “folk” classification and get the wrong idea, that’s just a very easy way of saying that the instrumentation is primarily acoustic. Aigner’s sharp lyrics and smooth voice topline something far more sophisticated and endearing than the familiar banjo-based pop so common to the current folk scene. Con Tender is worth a listen, a real listen, not a cursory run-through. Otherwise, you’re missing a lot. Why listen to someone singing the phone book when you could be listening to this?
Robin Aigner’s Con Tender is available at Bandcamp: http://robinaigner.bandcamp.com/album/con-tender