Ani DiFranco
(Copyright © 1999-2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Ani DiFranco , 6/10
Not So Soft , 5/10
Imperfectly , 6/10
Puddle Dive , 5/10
Out Of Range , 7/10
Not A Pretty Girl , 6/10
Dilate , 7/10
The Past Didn't Go Anywhere , 5/10
Little Plastic Castle , 6.5/10
Up Up Up Up Up Up , 5/10
Fellow Workers , 5/10
To the Teeth , 7/10
Revelling/Reckoning , 6.5/10
Evolve , 6/10
Educated Guess (2004), 4/10
Knuckle Down (2005), 5/10
Reprieve (2006), 5/10
Red Letter Year (2008), 6/10
Which Side Are You On (2012), 5/10
Links:

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Ani DiFranco is a folksinger from Buffalo (New York) who emerged as one of the most important voices of the 1990s. Her songs vibrate with raw energy and emotion, bite with sarcasm and wit, ponder with angst and depression. DiFranco's art is both personal and social: while she hunts her post-menstrual demons, she delves into poignant commentary.
Her staccato acoustic guitar is no less original, a fusion of Delta-blues and Appalachian folk picking that was originally a voice of its own and later was integrated in the small ensemble of Julie Wolf (keyboards), Daren Hahn (drums), and Jason Mercer (bass).
Selling over one million copies of her albums in a decade, despite limited air play and without the marketing of a major label, DiFranco became a hero to her generation, a symbol of a quiet revolution and ended up gracing the covers of countless teenage magazines.

She was only 19 when she recorded her debut album, the strictly acoustic and drum-less Ani DiFranco (Righteous Babe, 1990), but that album already contained everything she'd be known for, and at least two of her classics: Out of Habit and Both Hands.

Not So Soft (Righteous Babe, 1991) was a showcase for her percussive, almost punk style at the guitar (making the few percussions quite redundant), but the material is probably the weakest of all her albums.

More percussions appear on Imperfectly (Righteous Babe, 1992), that features a bunch of memorable songs: In Or Out, Coming Up, Served Faithfully, Every State Line.

Puddle Dive (Righteous Babe, 1993) is another minor album, whose standout is the scathing Egos Like Hairdos.

Like I Said (Righteous Babe, 1993) is a re-recording of songs from the first two albums.

Out Of Range (Righteous Babe, 1994), widely considered her masterpiece, added Face Up And Sing, Out Of Range, Diner to the canon.

DiFranco first bent to the rules of the studio on Not A Pretty Girl (Righteous Babe, 1995), her first album that one can defined "arranged". Socio-philosophical parables like Tiptoe and post-feminist rants like 32 Flavors (covered by Alana Davis in 1998), agit-prop songs like Crime For Crime and romantic confessions like Sorry I Am, Asking Too Much, Shy find a natural balance that shows a maturing artist. The six-minute Hour Follows Hour stands as the emotional centerpiece.

Dilate (Righteous Babe, 1996) overflowed with arrangements and guitar noise (the hard-rock riff and syncopated beat of the gasping rap Outta Me Onto You, the stammering guitar and hysterical scat of Shameless, the strident, nightmarish, disjointed shuffle of Going Down) but still features the usual fare of angry young woman's cries, notably Untouchable Face, which borrows the riff from Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane to unleash a vicious attack on her partner.
DiFranco's songwriting skills shine when she rips her heart open: the guitar sketches out frenzied bossanova lines to propel the agonizing melisma in Superhero; the sparse and bluesy Dilate is pure anger and inner tension that explodes in a wordless howl; the cinematic litany of Done Wrong slowly delves into the psyche of the narrator; the lengthy dirge Adam and Eve serves a harrowing account of a relationship.
Dilate signals an impressive maturity and an ever more eclectic talent.

Living in Clip (Righteous Babe, 1997) is a live album, that contains, among the other: Willing to Fight, Joyful Girl, Hide and Seek, I'm No Heroine, Anticipate, Shameless, Distracted, Adam and Eve, Fire Door, Travel Tips, Wrong with Me, We're All Gonna Blow, Letter to a John.

Little Plastic Castle (Righteous Babe, 1998) presents a kinder, gentler folksinger who is less at war with society and more at ease with her life. The music is unusually sprightly and even goofy: Little Plastic Castle boasts a feverish caribbean rhythm and a bouncing, ska-ish horn fanfare; Deep Dish jumps like swinging 1920s big-bands and stops for an out-of-tune music-box. DiFranco exudes confidence in the relaxed, casual tone of Fuel, which is hardly played or sung at all (a Patti Smith without the neuroses). Whether she harks back to Alanis Morissette's tenderly unsettled mood (As Is, Swan Dive) or exploits her vocal virtuosism (Two Little Girls) or returns to her best hysterical tone (Loom, Gravel), the album is a carefully crafted statement of emotional and ideological balance.
DiFranco gives everything she got in the 14-minute free-form spoken-word jam Pulse (trumpet, organ, acoustic guitar), which is both hypnotic and pensive.
The anthemic track of the album is the martial bolero Glass House, with a guitar arpeggio vaguely recalling House Of The Rising Sun and vocal acrobatics a` la Grace Slick.

That childish exuberance is even less controlled on Up Up Up Up Up Up (Righteous Babe, 1998). The problem is that two albums in 12 months may be too much for her and most of the songs sound like leftovers from the previous one. However, two parables of personal evolution, the eight-minute, trip-hoppish Come Away From It and Angry Anymore, plus the catchy Everest, would have been standouts on most albums of that year. The sociopolitical observer is alert in Trickle Down and 'Tis of Thee.

On The Past Didn't Go Anywhere (1996) Di Franco set to music some of Utah Phillips' spoken-word shows. Credited to both her and Utah Phillips, Fellow Workers (Righteous Babe, 1999) is a collection of Phillips' rants set to the music of DiFranco and friends, something that recalls the militant sessions of the 1960s.

DiFranco's continuing learning program led to the sophisticated scores of To the Teeth (Righteous Babe, 1999). Maceo Parker on sax and flute was but the cherry on the pie of a work that toys with funk and jazz the way a veteran sessionman would. The album is a formidable collection of intriguing ballads: the smoky, bluesy Soft Shoulder, enhanced with a calculated emission of guitar reverbs and feedbacks (Kurt Swinghammer); the nocturnal, light, jazzy Going Once, caressed by trumpet and trombone; the swinging piano-based Hello Birmingham; the dreamy, romantic Cloud Blood.
Each of them is both a powerful composition relying on original formats and a display of subtle vocal skills. DiFranco doesn't shout, but she can easily match the emotional power of the great black singers of the past. The soul-jazz prowess of Wish I May coins a crying style that is both unique to DiFranco and an extension of of what singers such as Dionne Warwick: have been doing for thirty years (see the way it ends in an anguished melisma and an eerie vortex of ghostly vocals). The lengthy Providence (with Prince on backing vocals) covers an impressive range of voices, from angry rant to gentle lament.
She is no less talented as a composer and arranger. Freakshow, for example, sounds like Talking Heads' Afro-funk done with the meager means of a folksinger (and its coda is eerie post-Enya atmospherics). Back Back Back builds up a thick, robust jazz harmony, and the fibrillating funk music of Swing introduces a hip-hop element (turntablist and rapper), and both add Maceo Parker's exuberant saxophone. The Arrivals Gate uses a frantic drum machine, an acoustic guitar and a banjo to create a sort of jig of the digital age.
However, DiFranco's genius is mainly in the dramatic intensity created by her Bob Dylan-ian delivery in the relatively straightforward To the Teeth, barely supported by Julie Wolf's gospel organ, only to rise up in the last two minutes to a waltz-like instrumental coda that features her scatting against a jazzy trumpet and a marching band's tuba. DiFranco already had talent, now she proved she also had class.

The double album Revelling/Reckoning (Righteous Babe, 2000) was the culmination of a self-searching process that started many years before for the Buffalo singer songwriter. The backing band has further increased the complexity of the arrangements, coining a soulful blend of rhythm'n'blues, soul, jazz and funk, that counterpoints her noble and passionate vocals. The mixture creates the most arduous (emotionally and musically) compositions of her career, elegant and luxuriant ballads such as Ain't That the Way. While less cohesive than its predecessor, this work offers a vintage point to observe the various aspects of DiFranco's art. There is rhythm, particularly in the breezy Latin shuffles of O.K. and What How When Where. There are, of course, the vocals, particucularly in the gentle but proud whisper of Garden of Simple and in the spartan violin-tinged Whatall Is Nice. There are bold constructs, such as the skeletal, conversational Tamburitza Lingua. There is the dramatic and confessional artist of Marrow (with accordion and horns) best displays her skills at arranging her own demons. And, finally, there is the melodic talent, as in Heartbreak Even, that almost evokes a Janet Jackson of 1950s' rhythm'n'blues, and Rock Paper Scissors, the semi-Dionne Warwick impersonation du jour.
The second CD, Revelling, gives us the arrangements and presents DiFranco in the acoustic (and mostly solo) format. The songs are long and fluent, slender and classy. The vibrant Your Next Bold Move, the crying Revelling and especially the ethereal Imagine That are perhaps the best demonstrations of her vocal prowess. The eloquent Reckoning, the jazzy, almost festive So What and the lulling Subdivision attest to DiFranco's eclectic persona, who is capable of extracting emotions even from the country-ish Sick of Me and the very plain Grey
While impressive as a whole, none of the tracks on this album matches the emotional or inventive level of To the Teeth. It is the same art, but with a bit less inspiration.

Evolve (Righteous Babe, 2003) continues DiFranco's exploration of atmospheric, noir, "beatnik jazz". Relying on lush brass arrangements, mellow syncopated beats, liquid keyboards, mournful trumpet, sleepy clarinet, oblique scat and melisma, DiFranco solves the dilemma "cerebral vs visceral" in favor of the former, particularly with the sprawling 10-minute political sermon Serpentine, but, at the same time, displays her romantic side in Promised Land and Slide, and swims through solid rhythm'n'blues fanfares in In the Way and Here for Now.

DiFranco disposed of her eclectic band and played all instruments herself on the stripped-down Educated Guess (Righteous Babe, 2004). Unfortunately, this means that the music is to be judged on the strength of the lyrics, and, DiFranco, like most musicians, is no Shakespeare. Despite a few songs that really work (Swim, Raincheck, Bubble), the proceedings get boring very quickly. Worse: DiFranco does think her lyrics are worth being heard for their own merits and includes a few spoken-word pieces. These should best be left to her psychiatrist (or to political gatherings, if she really has to tell us her political views). In the end, this is her most self-indulgent and least musical work.

Knuckle Down (Righteous Babe, 2005), produced by Joe Henry, was released after the breakup of her marriage and the death of her father. Even by Ani DiFranco's standards, it is a deeply introspective album, while being also a lot more musical than its (awkward) predecessor. Modulation, Lag Time, Studying Stones do not sacrifice a bit of intimacy to the brighter tones of the arrangements. Manhole and Knuckle Down are naked confessions of the kind that appeals to voyeaurs rather than music buffs. Recoil sits comfortably in between, thanks to a hummable melody and a brisk pace.

Having calmed down, DiFranco delivered a combination of humility and complexity on the spartan Reprieve (2006) that is typical of her artistic persona but not of her musical one, alternating the catchy Hypnotized and the confessional Half Assed with the nonchalance of someone who doesn't have anything left to prove.

Canon (2007) is a double-CD anthology.

Red Letter Year (2008) greatly expanded her sonic palette by employing even avantgarde trumpet player Jon Hassell and New Orleans' Rebirth Brass Band.

Which Side Are You On (2012) retreated to safer territory: a set of very personal confessions (notably Life Boat) with occasional references to the social and political crises of the times.

What is unique about this music database