There are innumerable levels of meaning in Robin Aigner‘s songs. She’s made a name for herself with her voice, which can be any number of things: brassy, coy, seductive or shatteringly poignant, depending on the song. But it’s the narratives and tunesmithing that ultimately distinguish her from the rest of the modern-day flappers in the oldtimey demimonde. She’s bringing her signature nuance and innuendo and double and triple entendres to an intimate duo show with bassist Larry Cook at the Jalopy on December 10 at 9 PM; cover is $10.
The last time this blog caught one of her shows all the way through was back in August at Barbes. It figures that she’d open the set there with a song wryly titled Le Français Salé, an enigmatically torchy musette-inflected waltz whose fractured title actually means “salted” rather than “salty,” Being a New York-born and bred historian, it also figures that many of Aigner’s songs would be historical vignettes set to jaunty Americana tunes from across the ages. The second song of the set, propelled by Reuben Radding’s bass and Rima Fand’s sailing violin lines, was a pensive waltz that imagined a relationship between Irving Berlin and the first woman to come in through Ellis Island: only in New York, right? From there Aigner brought the lights down, playing spiky broken chords on her ukulele under Fand’s austerely hazy ambience on a moody tale of Spanish Civil War refugees, resonating even more in this era of civilians in flight across a Europe that doesn’t want them.
Serious as those songs were, when she’s on her game, Aigner is hilarious, and she was here, treating the crowd to a devious take of Kiss Him When He’s Down, a hokum blues shuffle that takes a series of boxing metaphors into the boudoir. The show took another dip downward with a plaintive, wintry waltz before picking up the pace with Crazy, a surreal, tonguetwisting litany of the kind of kooks that a girl in this town can pick up on if she’s so inclined. Raddding gave that one a swingingly terse bass solo.
From there Aigner channeled a muted woundedness on a plush cover of a ballad by Pinataland – a group she’s often collaborated with over the years – its narrator drifting further and further into space. Interestingly, the best song of the night was the most angst-fueled one, a biting, flamenco-infused take of Greener, awash in bitterness and schadenfreude and images of being stuck on the outside looking in. From there she went into Tex-Mex territory, then Pearl Polly Adler, an unexpectedly bittersweet reminiscence told from the point of view of the high-end brothel owner who did a brisk business with FDR.
Aigner was also one of the stars of the most recent monthly Murder Ballad Mondays extravaganza at Branded Saloon, treating the crowd to a low-key, smoldering cover of Neil Young’s Down by the River as well as a brand-new, metaphorically bristling original which she said was directed toward a composite of ex-boyfriends rather than any specific person. Which raises the inevitable question of what guy in his right mind would mess up with a woman whose voice can pull you off the ledge like Aigner’s can? Then again, the world is full of nuts.