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Ani Difranco
Albums

  • Ani Difranco
  • Imperfectly
  • Puddle Dive
  • Out Of Range
  • Dilate
  • Living In Clip
  • Little Plastic Castles
  • Revelling/Reckoning
  • Evolve
  • Educated Guess
  • Knuckle Down
  • Reprieve
  • Canon
  • Red Letter Year
  • Which Side Are You On?
  • Allergic To Water










  • Adrian's Album Reviews |

    Ani Difranco

    imperfectly educated guess living in clip ani difranco evolve

    Ani Difranco ( 1990 )
    Both Hands / Talk To Me Now / The Slant / Work Your Way Out / Dog Coffee / Lost Woman Song / Pale Purple / Rush Hour / Fire Door / The Story / Every Angle / Out Of Habit / Letting The Telephone Ring

    Playing gigs since the age of ten, having written nearly 100 songs by the age of 18 - Ani ( pronounced Arnie? ) Difranco started out selling copies of a tape she'd made of her songs at gigs. Rather then proceed and sign to a record label, she started her own and christened it 'Righteous Babe' records. Which is pretty much where we find ourselves in 1990, Ani aged 19/20 and putting together a collection of the better of those songs she'd been busy writing since the age of 14. What kind of songs are they? Well, folky, singer-songwriter type songs, basically. All played by Ani, vocals and guitar. There are no other musicians on this album as far I know, just her. How did she write so many songs? Well, folk song - you write about what surrounds you. Ani's songs therefore are small and intimate. She's not seemingly trying to take on the world, she's not making any broad sweeping statements. Just writing about her observations and her life. Yeah, that kind of folk-song. The real kind, the honest kind. You know, some of these singer songwriter folky types? I love folk music, but it covers a broad style and range of music. Some of these singers - the lyrics are all important and the music some kind of afterthought. Some follow in the footsteps of a Dylan or a Joni Mitchell - and miss the point entirely whilst they're at it usually. Some of them can barely sing, as if just to sing something 'real' will suffice - in contrast to the manufactured pop sounds that surround them.

    One of the first things you notice listening to this album, is how strong her voice is, how it effortlessly carries a melody and moves from soft and tender to strong and passionate. The opening song 'Both Hands' has a nervous, anxious energy surrounding it, and many of the songs here do. The guitar playing is fast, melodic - always melodic. So, we've got a good singer and voice and good guitar playing? Both able to provide melody? Well, yeah. We've also got some good lyrics here, very well put together. Little stories, social observations. People are strange. 'Both Hands' is something special, so is 'Talk To Me Now'. Her voice swoops and goes off into these wordless refrains that are utterly beautiful. Both of the opening songs do this. 'Both Hands' contains lines such as "Your bones have been my bed frame / and your flesh has been my pillow / i've been waiting for sleep / to offer up the deep with both hands" and 'Talk To Me Now' promises us that "Self preservation / is a full time occupation / I'm determined to survive on these shores" and goes off, beautifully. Goes forwards and carries you from the opening guitar figure through to the sound of the voice and the lyrics.... everything. This is the thing with this stuff. If you want, you can focus on the lyrics. If you want, you can concentrate purely on her voice and the emotions and melody her voice carries. If you desire, you can focus purely on the music. Each aspect is worthwhile on its own. Put together, we've got something, really.

    'The Slant' is a spoken word piece, 'Work Your Way Out' arriving with dark sounding chords and a real folky atmosphere. Songs arrive at you, slower, faster. Softer and harder. Biting and half the world seems to be here, although it's someone else's world. This is Ani's world, but the force of her character, which always comes through in these songs, could very well draw you in on its own. If not, well. There's always the melodies, the sound of her voice and the accomplished acoustic guitar playing. 'Fire Door' has particularly glorious lyrics that hold you, it has anxious vocals and guitars - vocals moving from strong to soft to tender, edgy playing and the whole effect is of something important, something that needs to be said, something real. Pretty nearly all the songs here are good songs, enjoyable songs. The fact that the album is Ani + Acoustic guitar, added to the lyrics and her voice immediately creates something distinctive. Distinctive enough, combined with constant touring, to win her a growing devoted following even as early as this. This is an album you can easily fall in love with.

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    Readers Comments

    Terry Albany
    I agree, this album was given correct amount of points [eight and a half!], i love the raw expression in all the songs on this album/ in "like i said" all her demo stuff is similar, this album is sort of a tuned up, shined up version of the answeringmachine recordings [she recorded her first demos on an answering machine, they're kind of bad quality recording-wise..] Anywho, I love "The Slant," I used to kind of get creeped out when it came on because i wouldn't be expecting it, but I've learned to like that song a lot, I love how she pronounces everything so well and really expresses herself via speaking like that. Sometimes I wish she would play some of these old ones every once in a while to switch things up a bit- I wouldn't want them to be concert generics or repeats as a lot of her songs have now become meaningless crowd-pleasers, there are so many songs she could work with like maybe one of these every few concerts. I'll quit with my rambling now.


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    Imperfectly 9 ( 1992 )
    What If No One's Watching / Fixing Her Hair / In Or Out / Every State Line / Circle Of Light / If It Isn't Her / Good, Bad, Ugly / I'm No Heroine / Coming Up / Make Them Apologize / The Waiting Song / Served Faithfully / Imperfectly

    For her third album Ani shows development, in terms of her playing, especially. Her guitar playing is fluid and genuinely impressive in places. Certain songs here also incorporate additional instrumentation other than Ani's own vocals and guitar. A few songs feature a rhythm section, the utterly gorgeous 'Fixing Her Hair' features wonderfully effective mandolin, and it's 'Fixing Her Hair' that deserves an extra special mention. The sound of Ani Difranco's guitar is glorious, especially interweaving with subtle yet beautiful mandolin. A ballad full of feeling, this - and the feeling is easily gotten into. I can't really explain it, you know? It's just.... just.... THE SOUND of her voice, that utterly lovely guitar mixed with the mandolin... makes me cry, cry good tears. The biting, up-tempo yet completely melodic from beginning to end 'In Or Out' just reaches those tears and turns everything into smiles of joy. The lyrics are funny, humorous, story-telling. Fantastic lyrics that have you caught on every single word. The opening 'What If No One's Watching' is hardly any worse than either of the two songs I've mentioned, either. It flows, it drives forwards with Ani ably supported by an actual rhythm section, gosh. Ha, ha! Well, she gets typecast, doesn't she? Her music moves forwards album to album, nearly always. Not always, but nearly always. A process of evolution rather than radical change, for the most part. 'Every State Line' is Ani singing alone, unaccompanied by any instrumentation, either her own or additional musicians. 'Every State Line' has a country feel and Ani plugs into traditional music forms whilst remaining contemporary and timeless. The lyrics, needless to say, remain captivating.

    Ah! More great guitar sounds all through the likes of 'Circle Of Light', 'Good Bad, Ugly' is a happy, HAPPY song that should make you smile and the melody is strong. The flow of 'Imperfectly' is very nearly, well, perfect. The songs range in tempos and styles and move beautifully into one another. 'I'm No Heroine' is a good example of how her music was changing, incorporating an electric guitar and percussion. 'I'm No Heroine' has important lyrics and a haunting wordless vocal section in the chorus. 'Coming Up' is an Ani spoken word story that aids the albums flow, 'Make Them Apologise' is Ani playing her guitar and impressing with her playing as the song proceeds in edgy, nervous fashion. This edginess draws you in and carries you along - her songs do have an energy. 'The Waiting Room' is a gorgeous ballad akin to 'Fixing Her Hair', 'Served Faithfully' features beautiful viola to support Ani's guitar and voice, and so it goes. Ani creates an album that achieves a rare state in music, it makes you fall in love with it, creates a yearning for you to live right in that album. Well, i'll stop now, or i'll say something and you'll think i'm insane. Just trust me okay? Ani is good.

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    Puddle Dive 8 ( 1993 )
    Names And Dates And Times / Anyday / 4th of July / Willing To Fight / Egos Like Hairdos / Back Around / Blood In The Boardroom / Born A Lion / My IQ / Used To You / Pick Yer Nose / God's Country

    And so Ani continues. 'Puddle Dive' kept the momentum going and she kept touring and kept growing, although judged just by the music present here, temporarily no longer progressing in that sense, rather consolidating. Still, 'Puddle Dive' is pretty consistent and contains a bunch of good songs anyway. It's intimate and personal and you find yourself reaching for it to calm your nerves and provide yourself with a little less loneliness. A favourite track here for me is the delicious '4th of July' whereupon a violin plays over Ani and her guitar as the lyrics flow and the energy is there. The melody is there, her playing has such a special sound and her voice is so real and convincing. So believable. The stories she tells through her lyrics come to life because she infuses them with herself, with her own reality. Of a similar high, anxious tempo is the opening 'Names And Dates And Times' which features super-fast acoustic guitar playing, speedy vocals and much to chew over lyrically. Something to listen to, then listen again. Adore the thing. Following this is the truly beautiful ballad 'Anyday', romantic sounding and again, very genuine sounding whilst at the same time being so beautifully intimate. 'Willing To Fight' is hardly much worse, and so you see - the opening to this album is pretty darn good!

    Again, for an Ani album, nothing is especially weak, nothing is below par. 'Blood In The Boardroom' spits and amuses lyrically, both. 'Born A Lion' is filler I guess, but the sound of the Ani Difranco guitar, all tense and spat out ( yet beautiful and melodic ) - is here, present and correct. There are some beautiful moments through the second side of this album, the attractive and intriguing 'Used To You' for example, but overall the second side amounts to less than the first. We've got a bunch of solid, decent songs present with not enough special Ani magic. Having said that, I did describe this album as consistent and it is! Obviously, that comment makes little sense. You know, what I mean, is this..... oh, i'm drifting. There's something hynotic about her playing that just gets to me. Ah, a harmonica arrives during the very enjoyable 'God's Country' and so the album closes. Not quite upto the standards of the previous few for me - she was churning those songs out at a furious rate - but still, 'Puddle Dive' remains an album you really do find yourself reaching for, even so. Consistent? Ah yeah, I know why. It doesn't have a single genuinely weak song.

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    Out Of Range ( 1994 )
    Buildings And Bridges / Out Of Range (acoustic ) / Letter To A John / Hell Yeah / How Have You Been / Overlap / Face Up And Sing / Falling Is Like This / Out Of Range (electric) / You Had Time / If Her Tries Anything / The Diner

    You know, I really like Ani Difranco. I just felt like saying that in case you hadn't already noticed! But I don't have all of her records, I really wish I did. I'll skirt around the issue and not mention that horrible fact. She's released a ton of records, it's so difficult to always be able to buy them all - but goddammit, someday i'll own every single own. Albums like 'Puddle Dive' and 'Out Of Range' add to the Ani canon, add to her catalogue in most welcoming ways without actually being utter highlights - although, Ani fans tend to pick different favourites, anyway. To somebody, 'Out Of Range' will mean the utter world and the universe. Ani has that effect on her fans, although to non-fans she's incorrectly labelled as a lesbian ( she's not, she's bi-sexual, and what does this have to do with anything, anyway?? ) and stuck in with a bunch of other female singer-songwriters with which she has little in common. No major label deal for Ani, she's stayed with her own label throughout. She's controlled her own destiny. Okay, i'll stop all this praising right about now. How about some more praise? 'Out Of Range' shows subtle signs of musical development over the previous album, but no huge jump. Just perhaps that the songs are arranged a little more thoughtfully. That they still retain a natural sound and feel is credit to Ani. She has green hair on the album artwork, by the way. I just thought I should mention that.

    The title song has genuinely great lyrics, 'Letter To A John' is good enough to have you paying attention to every single word and also enjoying the sound, the feel and the melodies present in the vocals, especially. Beautiful vocal sounds. Hell, is 'Hell Yeah' a good song!! I like this song, it moves me - it's so funny and real and fascinating and warming and clever and I sound like a fucking stupid idiot writing all this stuff. What am I gonna do next, hey? Because I know you're just thinking, that I love the sound of Ani... but, anyway! well, what's wrong with that anyway? The electric version of the title song sounds good, by the way - but probably wasn't required. Ohhhhh, 'You Had Time' is an utterly beautiful piano led ballad and I rest my case. The piano goes to be replaced by acoustic, but you don't notice where it happened. Everything sounds natural. 'Diner' is a little funky - a change of tack for Ani - the song is mid-tempo with an actual 'swing' about it. A sign of things to come? 'Diner' doesn't resemble other Ani songs of the era. She was thinking ahead, perhaps? You can't sound the same all of the time.

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    Dilate 8 ( 1996 )
    Untouchable Face / Outta Me, Onto You / Superhero / Dilate / Amazing Grace / Napoleon / Shameless / Done Wrong / Going Down / Adam And Eve / Joyful Girl

    Ani moves off in different directions here. Firstly though, 'Dilate' has a softer sound than previous Ani albums and also gives off the impression that 'something' had happened to her. I don't know if this is the case, or not - but it's like she's suffered in the years between this and 'Out Of Range', for example. Both 'Untouchable Face' and 'Napoleon' have astonishing lyrics firstly, and secondly, both utilize variations of the word 'fuck'. As in, "fuck you". 'Untouchable Face' is the more 'playful' of the two songs, if that's the correct word to use. Perhaps not, but nevermind! It starts all softly strummed guitar, and continues that way. It's a very pretty guitar pattern and the lyrics are good lyrics, actually. As for 'Napoleon' this comes across as a very angry song lyrically - but even here, although sounding almost resigned to some kind of fate, is Ani with beautiful vocals. It's a very powerful track - the lyrics and guitar and tone of her voice all combining perfectly. In terms of Ani moving off in different musical directions as I said earlier, we've got the distortion of 'Outta Me, Onto You' and the actual sequenced and programmed drum beats of the pretty down-beat 'Going Down'. Ani goes funky and soulful, murming and mumbling. Something not quite as pretty as previous Ani material, but she turns her hand to this style very well. The traditional 'Amazing Grace' is given a pretty radical make-over - is that hip-hop beats I hear? Ani doesn't so much sing, as inhabit the space the track provides her with.

    So, given such material, and elsewhere a relaxed kind of sound as opposed to that nervy, anxious driving guitar that so delightfully characterised her earlier work - 'Dilate' really is a clear departure or evolution from previous Ani albums. 'Superhero' is a more old style Ani tune though, the guitar twists and sounds great, but she doesn't give us too much of what we want or expect! The guitar drops out in places, only to return again in full swing. The title song seemingly plugs into some classic American roots thing, it sounds timeless to me, and her vocal on this tune is one of the strongest of the album. I adore the wordless vocal part that forms the chorus, as the guitar continues to slide and gently yet strongly pick out the parts. Beautiful stuff. Again, as with certain other tunes here, the lyrics are biting and seemingly genuinely pissed off. Her voice matches this, but then we go back to the lovely wordless chorus wailing that just gets me every time. The closing two songs here on 'Dilate' are both great - astonishing vocals and words all throughout 'Adam And Eve' followed by the sad sounding, yet sweet and affecting ballad, 'Joyful Girl'.

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    Readers Comments

    Nelly chessy4life@hotmail.com
    I think Dilate is definitely Ani's best work. All the songs are worth listening to, and when you cant press the skip button even once, you know you have a great album. Tracks that stick out are Shameless, Dilate, Outa me onto you...ALL OF THEM DO! I also own LPC (little plastic castle) and I think it's a good album and all, but Dilate is better. By the Way, why isnt Not So Soft on here? That's arguably one of her best albums! Puddle Dive is good, too. Pick Yer Nose!


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    Living In Clip ( 1996 )
    Whatever / Whatever / Gravel / Willing To Fight / Shy / Joyful Girl / Hide And Seek / Napoleon / I'm No Heroine / Amazing Grace / Anticipate / Tiptoe / Sorry I Am / The Slant-The Diner / Flavors / Out Of Range / Untouchable Face / Shameless / Distracted / Adam And Eve / Fire Door / Both Hands / Out Of Habit / Every State Line / Not So Soft / Travel Tips / Wrong With Me / In Or Out / We're All Gonna Blow / Letter To A John / Overlap

    Ani Difranco live isn't so much different to Ani in the studio, actually - but the very fact that it is live of course, adds to the ambience, perhaps? Besides, the interaction between Ani and audience is really cool. Anyways, this 1997 live release collects together performances from a variety of Ani shows circa 1995/1996. It also gives us a few songs not yet on any Ani albums at the time, then new songs such as 'Gravel'. And, oh god, 'Gravel' is so fucking fantastic! You know that driving, wonderful Ani guitar i've been speaking of? Well, 'Gravel', in addition to great singing and lyrics, has the Ani guitar in spades, and deliriously so. By the way, for these recordings Ani was backed just by a drummer and a bass player. Seems like they had a pretty tight thing going on, when everyone is playing together, the bass is often superb and the drums, well, drums are drums - but they are solid, appropriate drums, well played. So, we've got a double live album, two CDs worth of material, actually. Some songs match the studio versions, some don't quite match the studio originals and others manage to surpass the studio versions. Each pretty much in equal measure for my money - although everything remains fairly true to the studio versions as I said right at the start of this review. Ani in the studio had created such natural sounding recordings anyway, so performing them live was always going to be pretty much the same thing, albeit in front of a paying, usually adoring audience! On the first disc, 'Napoleon' and 'Joyful Girl', then recent or new songs, both stand out from the pack, although to be honest, nothing really doesn't stand out, if you want to focus on individual songs or performances. An orchestra join Ani for her performance of 'Amazing Grace', by the way - that's a nice thing.

    On the second CD disc, 'Untouchable Face' and 'Shameless' really opens things very strongly, both songs getting the audience moving and grooving with the latter song, cheering during the appropriate "fuck you" moments during 'Untouchable Face'. We travel back to a very early Ani song with 'Both Hands', which features a full orchestral introduction which just goes to show how strong Ani's actual melodies are, even divorced from her voice and own guitar playing. 'Out Of Habit' is interrupted by Ani herself, storytelling, laughing - interacting with the audience in true folk singer style, I suppose. Ah, she does it well. 'Travel Tips', 'Distracted' are both Ani telling stories of things that have happened to her, and she's full of enthusiasm - "and it was so funny!" and then she laughs along with herself, etc. I guess from some performers such a thing could seem kind of irritating, but she just comes across as being so very genuine, that it's not like that with her. Anyways, 'Living In Clip' contains too many songs actually - which seems a silly thing to say, but it loses a half point because I can't listen to it in one go or anything. But, it is something to treasure, something to dip into every now and again when you feel you need to.

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    Little Plastic Castle ( 1998 )
    Little Plastic Castle / Fuel / Gravel / As Is / The Little Girls / Deep Dish / Loom / Pixie / Swan Dive / Glass House / Indendence Day / Pulse

    Well, Ani moves onwards and upwards here, although with reservations. Some of the more experimental material doesn't quite take flight - it's the more usual Ani styled songs that really impress, and there are some darn good ones here. The title song just makes you amazed in awe and wonder that she can keep coming up with these songs, seemingly treading the same old ground she's always covered, yet different in subtle and important ways. The structure of this title song is very Ani Difranco, yet we've got brass instruments piping up to provide the variation, and besides, it's a good song. 'Fuel' is one of her spoken word types things over a Jazzesque backing, 'Gravel' is glorious and i've already spoken of it during my 'Living In Clip' review. Well, it makes it's studio appearance here and loses none of its charm. 'As Is' is a sweet, lilting thing musically - with biting lyrics providing a nice contrast. A typical Ani thing to do, actually. Yeah, 'Little Plastic Castles' is kind of a meeting point between past and future Ani Difranco. The songs on the whole aren't the best she's ever done, but some of the songs here are up there, 'Gravel' for one, the gorgeous and important 'Independence Day' for another. There's not too much wrong here, actually. I love 'The Little Girls' with it's deft acoustic guitar work, don't so much care for the Jazz inspired, pulsating 'Deep Dish', which comes across akin to a groove in search of a real purpose. We've got 'Loom' with it's noticeable bass lines, and the bass lines were becoming more noticeable. It wasn't so much that Ani was changing, rather evolving. All will become clear in good time.

    'Pixies' has some interesting musical textures, softly rolling drums and very nice guitar work, although not the usual Ani pumping and nervous, edgy guitar work, rather relaxed and natural, very sweet and soft guitar work. The guitar of Ani is important, so important to her sound, that fans would revolt upon it disappearing for one of her next releases.... no matter. That's coming soon. Okay, so i'm missing albums inbetween, at the time of writing. I'm missing a part of the story - but hopefully, i've read between the lines. <

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    Adam Hammack ahammack19@yahoo.com
    I'm "Little Plastic Castles" according to the little poll thingy, which I think is somewhat appropriate. It was the first Ani album I bought and is still arguably my favorite. (I somehow had a feeling that that would be the one they'd pick for me.) And it has a line I'm always reminding my significant other about: "When I said 'I'll take it', I meant 'AS IS'" Later,

    Mike mdfrave@yahoo.com
    Many people would say that Little Plastic Castle is Ani's best album. I would fiercely disagree, and argue that those people are supporting Ani's most mainstream collection and aren't familiar with her as an artist. While I will admit that LPC is a daring album, the lyrics are subpar and the instrumentals are too risky. Though the song LPC has grown on me, I was very taken aback by all the instrumentals. Gravel, while just all right alone, cannot even begin to be compared to songs like Untouchable Face and Cradle and All. The passion Ani has always drawn from her fans is derived from her lyrics and originality. Just like the title track, this album is all right standing on its own, but is certainly trumped by Living in Clip, Not a Pretty Girl, and the first album.


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    Revelling/Reckoning 7 ( 2001 )
    Ain't that the way / OK / Garden of simple / Tamburitza lingua / Marrow / Heartbreak even / Harvest / Kazoointoit / What all is nice / What how when where why who / Fierce flawless / Rock paper scissors / Beautiful night / Your next bold move / This box contains / Reckoning / So what / Prison prism / Imagine that / Flood waters / Grey / Subdivision / Old old song / Sick of me / Don't nobody know / School night / That was my love / Revelling / In here

    Now, that's what I call value for money! Seriously, Ms Difranco releases an album a year pretty much anyway. Here we've got, as good as, a triple album ( speaking in old vinyl terms ) containing two hours of new music. Two CDs, the first of which moves Ani away from her past more forcefully than any of her other releases have ever done, and a second, mostly acoustic styled CD - yet a second acoustic CD that sounds strangely subdued, as if she's lost all interest in that style of music altogether. It does contain a few highpoints, though. Those highpoints include 'Grey' very sombre, very literate and important sounding lyrics and a great song, overall. The other big highlight of the second CD is 'Your Next Bold Move', soft and gentle, yet making its point all the same. Sadly, little of the rest of the second CD really moves or excites in the way Ani material of the past managed to do so. Old time fans, seeking out the old Ani sounds, will have gone straight to the second CD and have been deeply disappointed, and they were. Just read some of the comments on amazon.com for an indication. Fans were scathing, not just disappointed. Many didn't like the first CD either, a change of sound? What were all those Jazz textures and brass instruments and funk bass lines doing on an Ani Difranco album, anyway? Well.... once we've got past the dirge that is the opening five minute long groove in search of a will to live that is 'Ain't That The Way', then mostly, we're in clear blue waters. Waters pointing the way to a future, oh yes!

    'OK' includes, amongst its instrumentation... actually, not very much. Bass, keys, guitars and drums. Not much, yet it sounds so very different to past Ani material in sound, that you begin to frown and wonder. Then, later on, get the tune. You get the tune and the energy, you get the lyrics and vocals. You realise that 'OK' is actually damn good. 'Garden Of Simple' is even better, although tied more to past Ani, in that you can clearly hear her guitar. Her guitar playing is such a glorious thing - I don't ever wanna lose that. She doesn't ever wanna lose that, although it appears that she's trying to. 'Tamburitza Lingua' sounds like a 22nd century Tom Waits tune, sang by a girl, times are changing! It's addictive and groovy. Actually, with the likes of 'Heartbreak Even', which is very catchy and addictive, the likes of 'Fierce Flawless' which is a fine Ani song too, this first CD, the 'Revelling' CD - matches upto much else she's done. Even with the experimental pieces, this works as a good album. As far as i'm concerned, it should have been released on its own. The 'Reckoning' CD does little to add to anything she's done before. It's disappointing. Overall, 'Revelling/Reckoning' is disappointing, but it's paving the way for something else. It's another step onto something else. It was apparent even at the time.

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    Evolve ( 2003 )
    Promised Land / In The Way / Icarus / Slide / O My My / Evolve / Shrug / Please / Here For Now / Second Intermission / Serpentine / Welcome To

    A new transmission from the mind, heart and soul of Ani Difranco. 'Evolve' is aptly named, perfectly and appropriately named. Any talk of her music taking a sudden left turn, at any point her recording career so far - is to ignore the fact she's always been moving forwards with her music, always 'evolving'. This kind of progress has taken her away from her original sound of girl+voice+songs+guitar - towards an album encompassing melodica, organ, rhodes, clavinet, saxophones, clarinets, flute, bass, drums, three trumpets and a flugelhorn. And, that's even ignoring the Ani contributions, twelve new songs - her voice, guitar and piano - the first full realisation of a sound leaning towards Jazz far more than it leans towards folk. The opening lyric here tells us "You're taking up lots of space" and the song in question, the quite startling arrival of 'Promised Land' is both angry and seductive. The swirling jazz patterns sound utterly modern and forceful, a powerful, rich and full sound. 'In The Way' reminds me of 'Aint That The Way' from 'Reckoning/Revelling', only this song sounds more natural in the way it's been developed and recorded, far less clumsy and annoying than the opening of the 'Reckoning/Revelling' set did. We're moving on, sliding all around 'Icarus' with lovely guitar and more lyrics revealing potential troubles in the land of Ani, "Seems like you just started noticing / how noticeably bad things really are". Indeed. There's a pissed off nature to the sound of her voice suiting the lyrics, and backed up by evocative Jazz brass sounds throughout.

    You wanted old Ani? 'Slide' has the energy and structure and feel of 'old ani' but has been presented using her new, modern sound. It retains elements of both old and new, comes across as new, comes across as one of the best things she's ever done, actually. We switch back fully into Jazz land for 'O My My', but never before has she sounded so convincing using Jazz sounds, and it's no throwback. It's her representation, her use of certain sounds and structures filtered through her own creative vision. The title song, incongruously, lacks this rich wall of Jazz inspired sound and is back to Ani+voice, although still sounding pissed off at everyone and everything with "I'm just trying to evolve" being the key lyric, here. A few songs also feature the Ani guitar more prominently than elsewhere, 'Phase' and 'Second Intermission' most noticeably. And then, we reach the ten minute long 'Serpentine', a startling, wondrous piece. Lots of words, oh so many words. Politics and words and Ani and guitar. Everything stripped right back, the guitar functions as punctuation to her voice and message, her vocal rhythms struggle to contain the amount she has to say, she goes from soft whisper to pissed off angry near shouting. Nothing changes, everything changes. 'Evolve' is an important work, the sound of Ani sounding more essential than she has done for a good few years. I just hope that people are still listening.

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    Readers Comments

    Tim Kane t4kne@gis.net
    I was reading your commentary on Ani DeFranco and her music. I just heard Ani on WUMB (Boston) for the first time today during my lunch break.. It was cut from her newest CD EVOLVE. You has made the statement that you hoped that people were still listening to her. Well, I'm sure I was not the only one that listened to that cut today and thought is was great stuff. I'd like to get her EVOLVE CD.


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    Educated Guess 9 ( 2004 )
    Platforms / Swim / Educated Guess / Origami / Bliss Like This / The True Story Of What Was / Bodily / You Each Time / Animal / Grand Canyon / Company / Rain Check / Akimbo / Bubble

    Imagine my delight at finding a 'which ani difranco album are you' thingy, and finding out the Ani album I actually am, is exactly the same as the one i've given my highest grade to. Such things can happen. Getting married, getting divorced. Those things can happen too. One thing about Ani, she's always herself and always expresses herself through her music. This particular album is no change, in that respect. What does change is that she does absolutely everything. Plays everything, records everything. The entire process was Ani, right down to the production, mixing - the whole shebang. So, not only is this a return to solo Ani ( without supporting musicians in tow ) but it's a step beyond, Ani alone in every respect. It's a feeling you get whilst listening to the album, actually. No, this isn't a happy album. It is a brutually honest and stark album. I skimmed through some of the reviews that have appeared in the American press. Some of the critiscms were quite clearly critiscms of her, rather than of 'Educated Guess' or any of the music this album contains. This kind of thing happens a lot. Well, think about it. For awhile there, Ani looked like becoming a mainstream artist! You know, one that sells tons of records? Those guys are just bitter she never sold out, that she remained true to herself. Speaking for myself, and myself alone. The most interesting and enjoyable Ani Difranco albums aren't generally the ones that charted the highest on Billboard. Chart positions aren't and never were a barometer of quality.

    I don't quite know what to say, because this album has arrived to me whilst i'm in a happy period of my life. Ani isn't happy, judging by this. It kind of pains me. I want to feel that Ani fans the world over are feeling that, they want to hold her, comfort her, hug her. To give something back. There are lapsed fans that may just be brought back by 'Educated Guess' if only they ignore the reviews of Ani, rather than the reviews of 'Educated Guess', if you know what I mean? I've been struck hard by this record. Take one day at a time, this is how you are feeling today? Express that. Be honest. Ani makes albums for herself, primarily. That much is clear. Secondly, she makes albums for her fans, those that have supported her. Nothing else gets much consideration, apart from paying the rent, you know? I doubt she has too many problems doing that, she's worked hard over the years. She'll still be making albums when she's sixty. That bugs the guys at the Washington Post, or whatever, that much is clear.

    So, Ani and guitar? But, we have Ani that comes from the jazz inspired 'Evolve'. A few of the songs here could have fit on 'Evolve', with additional Jazz trumpets, or something. Here, it's just Ani. She's grown older, she's changed. We all do. Still, 'Swim' is as good a song as she's ever done. You know that feeling when you listen to a song and your spine just goes cold? When water appears in your eyes and you feel in love? 'Bodily' is also a highlight, slightly scary, great lyrics. Great Ani. 'Origami' with the line "I am an all powerful amazon" followed a little later by "i know men are delicate, origami creatures for women to unfold them, hold them when they cry, but i'm tired of being your saviour and tired of telling you why...."

    Ani fans have cried out for a return to just Ani and guitar. Well, those without such open minds to accept the likes of 'Evolve' as the great works that they are. Well, Ani has returned to herself. But she's moved on at the same time. She always moves on. Is this a new beginning? Am I 'Imperfectly'? I guess 'Educated Guess' was too new to be in the poll.

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    Readers Comments

    mb lowbrowishow@hotmail.com
    yeah, I thought this album was really disappointing, actually. Pretty self-absorbed and self-indulgent... It's not enjoyable to listen to, and even some Ani fans think so, not just the critic. Thankfully, her new one, Knuckle Down is much better. I can enjoy her amazing guitar riffs and poetic lyrics because they'r not just all I me me my, but you you you. And its not just 100 per cent complainy. I hate people who complain, especially in this nice North American society we live in.

    Mike mdfrave@yahoo.com
    I'm beginning to think that you're not very familiar with Ani as an entertainer. Your scores increase as new albums come out, which I find to be almost insane. I believe that Ani's lyrical ability has somewhat faltered the more albums she creates. To rate Educated Guess ahead of Not a Pretty Girl and So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter is a crime. The title track contains trite motifs that made her fans cringe. And, the poems Akimbo and Platforms are clearly inferior to earlier poems we've seen from Ani, such as Self Evident and Tamburitza Lingua.

    Alex icicle000@hotmail.com
    I find it incredible that people could be so dismissive of Educated Guess. The album is brilliant. Perhaps it does take some time to grow on you, but once it does it is in the ranks with, in my opinion, Not a Pretty Girl. Additionaly, what do you expect from a musician writing about her struggles? Do you expect them to be about YOU? That was a ridiculous comment...of course it will be about her.

    Chester Travis chestertravis@gmail.com
    I'm with Alex 100% This album is a true masterpiece. Just because it doesn't mouth feed you catchy rhythms and doesn't have as polished of a sound doesn't make it any less of a feat. Lyrically... are you insane?! This album is amazing! Origami has possibly the most poetic chorus out of any of Ani's songs to date. Educated guess has an amazing lyrical flow throughout the whole song and includes some of my favourite lyrics - "Plus i dream in skin-scented sentences of a stronger, faster, fiercer you. And to each noun, verb and predicate I dedicate a vivid hue. But you ain't done too well getting past your permanent pastel, have you now?" How can you call this woman selfindulgent? If she were so she would have signed to a major years ago.


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    Knuckle Down 7 ( 2005 )
    Knuckle Down / Studying Stones / Manhole / Sunday Morning / Modulation / Seeing Eye Dog / Lag Time / Parameters / Callous / Paradigm / Minerva / Recoil

    Critics and Ani fans alike are united in their praise for the tight and focused 'Knuckle Down' record. Some are saying it's a return to form, others going as far as to suggest it's her best ever work, the sign of an artist reaching a new level of maturity and skill. I've made next to no attempt to be objectively following the crowd or the consensus of opinion of the 'proper' critics whilst writing this page. It's actually the same approach I take for every artist page on this site. Some things are self-evident, though. For example, that 'Blonde On Blonde' is better than 'Empire Burlesque' if we're talking Dylan. I'm of the mind however to be accepting of those people for whom 'Empire Burlesque' might mean something special. There are people in this world for whom 'Tonight' is the Bowie album of choice rather than anything far more 'accepted' to be chosen as anyone's favourite Bowie album. You see, 'best' is a subjective term anyway. It's been said to me on occasion by many people that they feel album 'a' is an artists best, yet album 'd' is their favourite. For me, there is, or at least should be, no distinction between the two. So, i'll begin. 'Knuckle Down' contains emsemble musicians carefully chosen by Ani herself, mostly musicians she's worked with plenty of times before and feels comfortable with. Ani has been through the mill emotionally over the last couple of years and understandably didn't want to repeat herself with 'Educated Guess' - part two. Ani's music has always been evolving, rather than going through any dramatic overnight changes. Yet, many fans missed the point entirely of her 'Evolve' album, for example. Yearning for a return to the Ani they cherished dear, yet by then, long gone and sent to the depths of time, only to be re-lived through the memories of the records themselves. Ani clearly isn't the same person she was when writing 'Dilate' or 'Little Plastic Castles', or whichever Ani album you personally hold as your own favourite Ani.

    Lyrically, 'Knuckle Down' is more guarded than the oh so open and self confessional 'Educated Guess'. She's still covering the same ground whilst also branching out, story-telling wise. The lyrics for 'Knuckle Down' are generally more accomplished than they were with 'Educated Guess', the singing is mature, which is a word I hate. Laid-back might be more appropriate actually. The vocals are finely nuanced, Ani coaxing feeling and meaning from her vocal inflextions and intonations. It's something she's always done, yet for 'Knuckle Down', she's subtle and clever with her inflextions and intonations. You can listen and it can wash over you. Unless paying strict attention to the nuanced lyrics, the sympathetic and accomplished playing, the generally similar musical sound of each track.... yet of course there are differences... 'Knuckle Down' may just fail to draw you in. The title track is a pleasingly familiar sounding Ani track, the guitar runs harking back to her earlier years rather than her more recent albums. 'Callous' and 'Sunday Morning' are both beautifully sad sounding pieces of work, the latter in particular a highlight of the set, her vocals are astounding on this song.

    An album of moments for me, however cohesive the album as a whole seems to sound. That's actually my problem. The highs and lows and funny little interval inbetween pieces of humorous third or first person storytelling and politics has gone. This is an album for certain Ani fans who have grown up with her music. They are older now and having been slightly dismayed by her more musically ambitious and adventurous works such as 'Evolve' and downright dismissive of the utterly spellbindingly brilliant, yet severely divisive for fans, 'Educated Guess', warmly embrace a grown up and mature Ani. Yet, I personally don't want Ani going down the road that Tori Amos has gone down recently, eg, a mature, almost musically easy listening, update of the original or 'classic' sound of the artist in question. Releasing albums that don't challenge anybody or anything, however admirable the songs and sounds and skills contained on the album in question may be.

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    Readers Comments

    sappho morgan sapphomorgan@yahoo.com
    I agree with the comments about this album. I actually really like it (theres nothing specific not to like) but i found that it was so easy to assimilate into my self that i actually lost interest in it quite quickly. It was very satisfying initially as it was so easy to like it and to see its strengths, but after my 20th listen or so i felt that it didn't really have much left to offer me. It was just too easy somehow - a bit like fast food Ani rather than the starker, rawer stuff. Its definately a good album but it is not very intricate and just lacks some of the magnetism that so many of her albums have. Its like it allows you to take her talent for granted and to get complacent about it rather than being struck by it every time you listen. Maybe she's just feeling a bit middle of the roady herself at the moment, who knows. Enough of these repetitious observations already! I'm off to listen to it again...or should i say to skip to my favourite track and think about all o! f that stuff that got lost on the way to church, all the stuff that got lost on the way to school...


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    Reprieve ( 2006 )
    Hypnotized / Subconscious / In The Margins / Nicotine / Decree / 78% H20 / Millennium Theater / Half-Assed / Reprieve / A Spade / Unrequited / Shroud / Reprise

    Introspective and lacking musical bite, this is a further step back from the limelight by Ani Difranco. Her reputation seemingly secure, she appears to be set about unconsciously dismantling it. With the apparent demise of the punchy, jazzy sound that marked such CDs as ‘Evolve’, she’s gone through a more subdued phase with ‘Educated Guess’ and ‘Knuckle Down’, yet both of those CDs had their moments, particularly the former release. ‘Reprieve’ just doesn’t rush out and grab you. The songs are quiet and strummed with hints of jazzy edges. Her voice is soft and sounds lovely and some of the songs are fairly beguiling, admittedly. It’s seemingly a serious work and I’ll take it like that, yet I can’t help but admitting to missing the sound of Ani having fun sometimes. Whereas ‘Educated Guess’ laid the pain down plainly for all to see and wrapped it within attractive melodies, much of ‘Reprieve’ just seems too spare and downcast for its own good. There are messages here if you care to look for them, though. ‘Subconscious’ and ‘A Spade’ seem to be digs not just at the critics but at Ani’s fanbase, as well. “I know where I’m going and it aint’ where I been’, she sings, forming the chorus as such of ‘Subconscious’, one of the stronger songs here. ‘A Spade’ is fairly self-explanatory, ‘In The Margins’ also follows similar themes and it does indeed seem that Ani is having, if not a crisis of confidence, then at least some problems with the way she’s being perceived. Almost as if she’s readjusting her own ambitions and settling for a smaller, yet more responsive ( more understanding? ) fanbase. She’s said plenty of times she’ll record forever, I hope that’s still the case. Her albums always seem to have been honest and coming from exactly where her state of mind resides at any one time. It’s a good thing. That’s how it should always be for a true singer/songwriter.

    This is a very lyrical album, all in all. That’s where the focus seems to be. ‘Decree’ works well both lyrically and musically, it’s a song that hits hard. The songs I’ve already mentioned, ‘Subconscious’, ‘In The Margins’ and ‘A Spade’ all work as highlights, ‘Nicotine’, ‘Unrequited’ and ‘Shroud’ all contain fine lyrics. It’s certainly by no means a bad album, yet the overall tone and feel doesn’t attract me. It’s very muted and the music matches this. This is Ani on her own, in more ways than one, probably. There’s very sparse accompaniment, most tunes consisting of Ani plus guitar. That’s the way she started of course, yet she’s not really playing the way she used to. She’s allowed to change, naturally, and I like Ani changing and developing. The playing here doesn’t seem to be the point of the album, though. It seems the guitar playing has deliberately been laid out not to be a focus, so that aspect has been played down. There’s plenty of pain and emotion in her voice and many of the lines give clues as to where Ani is presently ‘at’. It doesn’t seem to be a particularly good place for her to be. I hope I’m wrong and I hope she’s ok. Needless to say, I like other Ani albums more than I like this one, but I’ll still be tuning in next time around. She’s definitely an artist and she’s certainly worth it in the long run.

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    Canon 8 ( 2007 )
    Fire Door / God's Country / You Had Time / Buildings And Bridges / Coming Up / Cradle & All / Shy / 32 Flavors / Dilate / Distracted / Gravel / Untouchable Face / Joyful Girl / Little Plastic Castle / Fuel / As Is / Napoleon / Shameless / Hello Birmingham / This Box Contains / Grey / Prison Prism / Marrow / Here For Now / Subdivision / Rain Check / Swim / Paradigm / Manhole / Studying Stones / Hypnotized / 78% H2O / Millenium Theater / Your Next Bold Move / Both Hands / Overlap

    Angela Marie Difranco was born in 1970 in Buffalo, New York. 'Canon' is released via Righteous Babe, her own label which has been running since 1990 when she recorded and released her first album. 'Canon' contains a generous 2 hours plus of music, including five newly re-recorded renditions of 'Napoleon', 'Shameless', 'Your Next Bold Move', 'Both Hands' and 'Overlap'. In 2005, DiFranco made CMJ's list of the 25 most influential artists of the last 25 years, alongside The Pixies, Nirvana and Radiohead. She's very much a love her or hate her kind of artist. I know of a lot of rock fans who are kind of snobby about any female singer/songwriter and yes, this is the 21st century. Her voice swoops and weaves in and out of her powerful and impressively speedy acoustic guitar playing. She hasn't just confined herself to folky singer-songwriter, though. Over the years she's covered pop/rock/jazz/funk. You name it, she's probably done it. Hardcore fans maintain the ideal setting for appreciating Ani Difranco is a live setting. I can't personally agree or disagree with that statement, as i've yet to see her. Living in the United Kingdom, she doesn't tend to come round these shores very often, where her fanbase is much smaller than it is in the US. I try and do my bit of course, even if it's only through this page, usually praising her work. Well, she did replace Tori Amos as my all time favourite female singer/songwriter type person, after all, some ten years ago. Nobody else i've come across since comes anywhere close to her, as far as i'm personally concerned. What, you wanted an objective, balanced review? Well, i'm not paid to do this, so I don't have to be objective. I usually am, but when it comes to Ani, her best tunes just get right through into my heart and stay there.

    Both Hands video. If the link still works, watch how happy she looks after a hard few years although more recently, a new relationship and a baby. It's good to see her happy again and also great to hear how 'Both Hands', such an open, honest and stripped back song in its original version gets an added electric makeover and still sounds great. Of the other re-recorded tracks, 'As Is' has a strong, close-up new vocal, 'Napoleon', like 'Both Hands' sees Ani strike an electric guitar, 'Your Next Bold Move' is radically transformed with deep bass and weird percussion. 'Overlap' sounds pretty normal bass, guitar and drums and I wonder if this is a new direction for Ani, 3 piece rock band stylings married to her trademark, distinctive songwriting? Anyway, otherwise this is a best-of selection hand-picked by Ani herself. I won't pick out my own highlights, because fans and newcommers will always have their own different favourites. I like that, a true sign of a quality artist. If you haven't investigated Ani before, dig in with 'Canon'. It's going to hopefully be a great gateway into her catalogue proper for you.

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    Red Letter Year ( 2008 )
    Red Letter Year / Alla This / Present-Infant / Smiling Underneath / Way Tight / Emancipated Minor / Good Luck / The Atom / Round a Pole / Landing Gear / Star Matter / Red Letter Year (Reprise)

    Motherhood has settled Ani Difranco but not, thankfully, turned her into a safe, mainstream option. 'Red Letter Year' sees witness to as pointed Ani lyrics as ever. The change is with the music, which whilst remaining edgy relies far less on Difranco's own performance, rather sees a full band play tight, clean and occasionally inventive arrangements of these new Difranco tunes. Difranco of the past, even with upright bass and drums, never seemed as though the band were quite there in terms of being central to the shape of the compositions. 'Red Letter Year' suffers no such problem and as such manages to be the most satisfying new Difranco album for quite some time. The title of the album refers back to having a 'Red Letter' day, a memorable or important event. In these changing political times, it's interesting to speculate exactly what Ani is referring to here. Is she trying to suggest she didn't believe a Black man could be president, feared it couldn't happen or suggests, in fact, that it would? The song has special lyrics in any case and manages to become a highlight not only of this LP but right up there with the very best Difranco songs. The reprise version that closes the LP is a brass-band instrumental take, very happy and celebratory in a way Difranco hasn't seemed for many years.

    'Something like 'Emancipated Minor' has a mellow bass-line that wouldn't sound out of place on a soul/disco record. Solid drums throughout the album actually and then we reach a song like 'Atom', an excellently realised number giving the album a melancholic touch in contrast to the generally slightly happier nature of the melodies elsewhere. Something like 'Alla This' has tremendous drumming, Ani's vocals have lost none of their touch, indeed, her vocals sound better than ever. Ani's trademark guitar runs are almost entirely absent from this LP, yet the acoustic based 'Way Tight' cuts right to the bone, a beautiful tune and again, Ani's vocals have a maturity and richness that simply wasn't there before. 'Red Letter Year' really is that wonderful thing, a top-notch Ani Difranco album. Although she does tend to release an album every single year, it's been a couple or three years now since we had an album this good from her. I'm so pleased, her music remains very important to myself and many, many others.

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    Which Side Are You On? 7 ( 2012 )
    Life Boat / Unworry / Which Side Are You On? / Splinter / Promiscuity / Albacore / J / If Yr Not / Hearse / Mariachi / Amendment / Zoo

    Ani DiFranco has recorded more than twenty albums and is a Grammy Award winner. 'Which Side Are You On?' is her first studio album in four years, an unprecedented gap as far as this normally prolific artist is concerned - motherhood and marriage may have slowed her musical productivity down? Pete Seeger guests on the title track playing banjo amidst a full band complete with military drums underlining the lyrical concepts. A couple of fairly mellow numbers open the album, although both are full of Difranco-isms and her familiar lyrical and musical twists and turns. For long term fans, it's akin to delving into the record as pair of comfy slippers. The political title track of course suits Ani down to the ground but more welcome is the musical approach, those marching drums, the electric guitar sailing through, a very percussive track all in all -heavy percussion and bass not something really appearing on the past few Difranco records.

    A highlight and one of the few tracks sounding as heavy and/or urgent as the title track is the six minute dark 'Amendment'. It fits the tone, hits the spot where many of the pretty tracks here simply pass by, although 'Hearse' and 'Mariachi' are both good Difranco songs, the latter likely to slot easily into her live set. A lot of the album overall seems dark, faintly miserable even, but some also laid that accusation as 'Educated Guess'. 'Educated Guess' had a real rawness and genuine passion about it, as well as some interesting guitar patterns. Ani's vocals are admittedly strong and persuasive across 'Which Side Are You On' yet, I have a worrying suspicion that many of the songs wouldn't stand up half as well if sung by another artist. A largely 'treading water' Ani Difranco release then? Well, yes, but that's still better than a lot of her peers are managing to this very day.

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    Allergic To Water 6 ( 2015 )
    Dithering / See See See See / Woe Be Gone / Careless Words / Allergic To Water / Harder Than It Needs To Be / Genie / Happy All the Time / Yeah Yr Right / Tr'w / Still My Heart / Rainy Parade

    I want to rid this dreary excuse for entertainment from my now playing, have to review playlist. This is still Ani, but her fiery guitar days are long gone. 'Dithering' opens and it has guitar, but although it is an interesting pattern, and the lyrics and good - you yearn for her early years and that energy she had. Sorry, I was trying to remember the name of the song. 'Both Hands' - that's it! A simple fast strum and packed full of fire - 'See See See See' is more like the Ani I want, she sings softly and the guitar is quiet but the guitar is insistent - exactly what you want - and her vocals trail off at the end of certain phrases. Ani isn't the only artist to have got together with a certain collaborator that pushed her forwards - then fallen out. Ani doesn't push forwards any more - content with her motherhood and her money. She doesn't owe us anything, she has a good catalogue of albums - yet, if she doesn't actually care anymore, she is only hurting her own legacy. 'Woe Be Gone', really? No tune, no decent lyrics and flowing into a song called 'Careless Words' you hope for something.... well as an Ani fan you do. She does that little twisty guitar thing she does so well, she does it softly. She then proceeds to sing about things that simply do not matter. Ani is not stretching herself like she used to, she always used to.

    We have a title track, which is Ani strumming and not saying much about anything - we have a second half on an album I barely have the time or patience to listen to - and I’m a fan! The album closes with something simple, a little tune called 'Rainy Parade' that has a very easy, two or three chord guitar strum. She can barely be heard, but there is a gentle touch. I don't know, it is a nice song - but this is an utterly forgettable album and wouldn't have been released were it not by Ani Difranco. She seriously needs to up her game - Tori has.

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    this page last updated 27/03/16


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