By Adeem Bingham, Editor
Al Riggs is a relentless creative. They are a songwriter and artist intent on redefining the parameters of the often casually prescribed “prolific” descriptor.
A non-binary musician based out of Durham, they are a purveyor of poetry-forward, conceptual American folk music marked by intriguing and exploratory sounds.
In that vein, the new album, I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep, based on a lyric from a traditional American folk song – is a unique and imaginative take on country music replete with brooding acoustic numbers that nod to Simon Joyner and electronic sounds that would make Owen Ashworth proud.
The album is full of sparse arrangements that sometimes feel interrupted by unexpected sonic movements that make the record feel like an agile, sentient creature.
However, all of Rigg’s experimental production techniques orbit such competent and intuitive songwriting that it’s too much to absorb on a first pass. This is an album that grows with every listen beyond the subtlety of Al’s casual and effortless delivery, beyond the interplay of digital and acoustic sound.
Honestly, in many ways I don’t want to tell you anything about this record. I want you to step into it like you step into the shower, naked skin wholly unaware of the temperature because I have felt the water on my wrist and it is perfect.
It is my task, though, so I should say that it opens acapella with, “Lighten up, long face / you’re too hard for your heart,” and beckons the listener, “let me come in.”
The lyrics on “The Most” hit me in such a soft and unexplainable spot. Al has a way of stealing your breath with these throwaway lines that drag you through the headphones and into a moment that isn’t yours and it becomes yours. It’s truly inexplicable but it’s the magic of their writing.
With all the specificity of a John Prine cut and the unassuming authority of Bill Callahan, the first few songs really ricocheted around in my ribcage like loose rounds.
“Blighted By The Light” is an acoustic waltz framed by the ambient tones of a pedal steel and driven by a clever reimagining of the well worn Springsteen title. The characters traversing the landscape of Al’s worlds are riveting and the balance of what is said and what isn’t lends so much space for the listener to explore.
If I had to pinpoint a highlight of the record, it would be the beautiful reimagining of the song “Ragged But Right.” Al tells me, “I heard the George Jones version back in High School and it’s still my favorite one, and the one that I based my version on the most.”
Featuring Patrick Haggerty (of Lavender Country) and our good friend Paisley Fields, it is packed with an unmitigated, reverberant jubilance that left me smiling unflinchingly. “I got a big electric fan to keep me cool while I sleep,” is sung with a sort of wink at the camera, a playful and campy aside.
“[Patrick] is a true gentleman and he knocked his one take out of the park,” Al says of working with the legendary songwriter. “I’ve worked with [him] before when I played in Lavender Country once at the Pinhook a couple of years ago. Asking him to sing on the album was an absolute no-brainer.”
I hesitate to focus too keenly on a specific moment, though. I Got A Big Electric Fan is a singular piece of art, conceptual and direct. It straddles the line between tradition and innovation with confident grace, playing with themes both sonically and lyrically that push the genre forward into new spaces while giving playful reverence to its past.
They also do, in fact, have a big electric fan that keeps them cool while they sleep: it’s from Target.
I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep drops on April 2nd. You can pre-order HERE.