There has always been a certain pervasive duality in Amy Rigby's life and career. She's been a band member (with Americana advance scouts Last Roundup and Folk/Pop trio The Shams) and a solo artist.
She's an itinerant musician and a grounded mother. Her work has been critically acclaimed and commercially ignored. And there have been times when it seemed she was avoiding success almost as passionately as she was pursuing it.
That duality extends to Rigby's latest and perhaps best solo venture, Little Fugitive. Although the title comes directly from the 1953 independent film by Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, it also speaks to Rigby's life on the road, always running toward something and maybe away from something else.
Rigby admits that Little Fugitive could also be viewed as both the beginning and the end of a phase in her career.
"The last album I guess I felt was the end of something, and this one is transitional, pivotal, like something different will come after," she says by cell phone from her tour of Wales. "You never can really say what that will be.
Every record you hope you'll have something new to say or something different to focus on, but I think something different will come for me."
At the same time, Rigby feels as though Little Fugitive might be just as much a reconciliation between those two perspectives as a definition of each individually. In some ways, it even seems like a final accounting.
"Of course, every record I think is my last record," Rigby says. "It always feels like this is really the end of this particular era of my life as a musician and development and after this is going to be something else. I work pretty regularly, but every time I've finished a record, I think, 'Well, that really might be all there is to say.' "
Little Fugitive is Rigby's fifth album of all new material and it marks the first time she's had a hand in producing an entire album. After partially producing several tracks on her last album, 2003's Til the Wheels Fall Off, she was inspired to produce all of Little Fugitive, with co-production from her longtime guitarist Jon Graboff in a marathon two-day session for basic tracking. Both the experience and the results were very satisfactory for Rigby.
"I always feel good about my songs, but I think the general feeling as we walked out of the studio after the actual recording process was a very complete feeling," she says. "That came across in a strong way, and that gave me a confident feeling about it."
If there was a shift in Rigby's actual songwriting, it came as a result of her relocation to Nashville. Because of the amount of performers there looking for material, Rigby admits that she tended to write with that end in mind.
"After spending a little time in Nashville, I felt less inclined to worry about whether other people were going to record my songs," she says. "When I first went there, I definitely felt like I was wanting that to happen. And when I gave up on that idea ... I wanted to get more personal and specific in the details of the songs, even if they weren't autobiographical."
Another big influence on Little Fugitive's immediacy was Rigby's reunion performances last year with The Shams at the invitation of Yo La Tengo for their Hanukkah shows. Having to return to the naiveté of her earliest work had a distinct impact on the way she approached Little Fugitive.
"I had to go back and learn a whole set of my songs that I'd written like 15 years ago, and a lot of them I was like, 'How did I even do that?' " Rigby says. "It was before I learned a lot of crafty things, like when you go into the chorus and when it was time for the bridge, things that become almost automatic after a while. And the thing that I really loved about learning those old songs again is that nothing made much sense, and I missed that."
As Little Fugitive racks up almost universally positive reviews — and with the perspective of her 46 years as well as the breadth of her career to date — Rigby appreciates the accomplishment of the album.
"It felt closer to the feeling of a live show for me," she says, "and as the years have gone by I've just really gotten to where I love to play shows."
With Rigby's newly relaxed attitude regarding songwriting and the studio comes the realization that the things she's been working toward are finally coming to fruition with more tangible results.
"I feel like I've always gotten nice reviews, and I've learned it's not something to take for granted because sometimes it's all I've got," Rigby says with a laugh. "It doesn't necessarily translate into anything concrete. This is the first time that I've actually seen it look like it's translating into people coming to my shows.
"It's like there was this feeling of the clock ticking and like, 'Oh my God, if I don't 'make it' by — fill in the (age) ... 39, 42, 44 — that it's going to be too late.' And finally I feel like I passed over some magical barrier and now the people who are going to get something out of this are finding me now."
AMY RIGBY performs with Over the Rhine and Kim Taylor Saturday at the Taft Theatre.