A review written for Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
By Shawn Linderman
Ani DiFranco is unlike anything you may have heard in the world of folk music. She pioneers at its fringes, far beyond the civilized borders, tame streets and pleasant sidewalks. On a casual first listen, many might grimace at the "punk" taste of her latest CD, DILATE, but if you really listen (and have a discerning intelligence--a requisite to appreciate this woman's talents) you will marvel at the sophistication of her instrumental artistry, perception and incisive writing.
The opening track, "Untouchable Face," reminds me of the 70's cartoon poster. The posted depicted a mouse about to die in the talons of an oncoming hawk where the mouse stands defiantly facing the hawk, giving it the finger. The caption read: "The last great act of defiance." Instead of the ubiquitous woe-is-me treatments given to songs of unfulfilled love, Ani instead eloquently expresses her disagreement with losing the perfect partner. You'll chuckle with the hurt on this one.
"Outta Me, Onto You," a warning of emotions about to overflow, is well treated by tough, harsh guitar riffs, a rap-like vocal delivery and uncontrolled cries bursting over everything.
"Superhero" deals with lost love, and the lost feeling of invincibility
that came with it. Ani's guitar is much softer, but insistently driving on
The fourth song and title track of the CD has the musical feel of a Homeric epic. Ani details the strength to be found in love, but finds she must be truly Herculean to not be like everyone else when love departs.
After four (albeit unusual) love songs, DiFranco does a funky, funeral cover of "Amazing Grace." It is followed by a thoughtful song entitled "Napoleon" concerning itself with the pitfalls of climbing the ladder, and being climbed upon!
"Shameless" is the hook track of this CD, a powerful statement in defense of personal lifestyles. The funky guitar licks on this song are pure dynamite. Eminently danceable!
"Done Wrong" is a pretty song where Ani's vocals are softer (and the
listener can better appreciate this aspect of her talent). It contains some
of her most insightful lyrics on this recording, capturing the real
problems evidenced at the end of a relationship:
If "Done Wrong" is a lament for a dying relationship, "Going Down" is a scathing rejection of one. Ani instructs her former lover of the futility of doing anything but complete surrender. The song is complete with a megaphone-like vocal treatment of the FBI surrounding the robbers in a bank.
"Adam and Eve" is the final love song (the phrase has a unique flavor when juxtaposed with the name DiFranco!). It details the sad realizations of an empty love affair while Ani's guitar work evokes flavors of Neil Young. (This is the one and only place I can compare Ani with another artist--usually she is uniquely herself.)
DILATE closes with "Joyful Girl," another DiFranco statement of self: no excuses for what I am or what I do, they're me.
I really liked Ani's music when I first heard her two years ago at a folk festival, but I stayed with my "safe" folk music. Last month, I saw her again in concert and said "To hell with it. It's time to break free," and I bought her last four CDs. All are very good, DILATE is great.
DILATE opens musical territory few in folkdom dare to tread. Sadly, most will stay in their safe little towns of pretty tunes and pretty lyrics and pretty sameness. For those who feel that burning desire to go farther out and experience life at a wilder level, Ani DiFranco blazes a path to a new world with a flair and individuality evidenced by all of history's great explorers. I am certain that 10 years from now her music will still be unique and fresh in the annals of folk music, like Talking Heads in the rock realm.