Though she’s never drawn the adoring crowds that flock to Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan, singer-songwriter Amy Rigby has no peer on the current pop scene. Her wit, honesty, emotional intelligence, and superior gift for melody have enabled her to capture a moment in the lives of men and women as precisely as Carole King did in the early 70s. Like King, Rigby has mastered the paradox of rendering a generation through songs that are utterly personal; with their vivid detail and knowing observations, her lyrics cut deeper than a weekend’s worth of Lilith Fair anthems. This May her three albums on Koch Records—Diary of a Mod Housewife (1996), Middlescence (1998), and The Sugar Tree (2000)—will be condensed into a single-disc anthology as she closes out her deal with the label, and if you’re unfamiliar with her music, you couldn’t do better than the 17 tracks earmarked for that still-untitled release. The frustrated working woman on the cowbell-pounding rocker “The Good Girls” declares, “My mother didn’t go to work / She stayed at home and she never got paid / Now I do double time, I’m slaving six to nine / I’m so tired at night I think I’ve got it made.” In the slinky, bongo-propelled blues “Invisible” the singer laments, “I walked into a bar, now what was I thinking / Nobody asked me, ‘Honey, what are you drinking?’ / I’m invisible / Since I hit 35, what I want I’ve gotta buy / I’m invisible.” For all her vulnerability, Rigby can strip the paint off a lover better than Richard Thompson: on the hammering “Balls,” she snaps, “I’ve been seeing a pattern here, how you get lost when I get too near / Then you come ’round maybe once a week, like some guys go out to bowl.” Yet for all her disappointment she still savors romance like wine: on “Magicians,” when a sometime boyfriend tells her he won’t be around forever, she replies, “Let’s leave reality out of it, shall we? / No need to mention it, it’s always here / Leave the cold hard facts to mathematicians / We’re magicians / We make reality disappear.” Rigby is currently writing songs and shopping for a new label, though she’s said that if she can’t find one she’ll release an album on her own. Being on one’s own is a common malady these days, and few contemporary songwriters have so mastered its painful poetry. Saturday, February 23, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Glen Rose.