Amy Rigby The Sugar Tree

Rigby's first LP, Diary Of A Mod Housewife, was a gem and the follow-up, Middlescence, was the poster child for the sophomore slump. Happily, her third is a welcome and strong return to form. She's moved to Nashville, and despite the addition of the occasional steel guitar, it's not twangy in the least. She's still producing top shelf jangle pop that's much smarter than most. The songs are tight and literate humdingers that examine love and lust in its myriad incarnations, and does so with wit, intelligence and insight. The songs are at times alternately and simultaneously thankful, lusty, ribald, cynical and hopeful. The characters have been burned a time or two but possess enough self-awareness to know that they'll be playing the game again, sooner or later. Pop maven Brad Jones produces and manages to elicit a tough and tender sound from the band, which includes the unbeatable Will Kimbrough on guitar. Rigby's voice, a cross between Lucinda Williams and Chrissie Hynde, is a marvel that combines strength and intelligence with a winsome vulnerability. The only weak track is of "Cynically Yours," an attempt at Euro cabaret pop with a quasi-doo wop spoken bridge that would probably work great live, but is too jokey to hold up to multiple listening. (Koch)