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Ani DiFranco | Evolve | review | alternative | rock | Lollipop

Ani DiFranco

Evolve (Righteous Babe)
by Jamie Kiffel

I still love her when she sounds like a feral cat. Sliding all over the screech scale, high on a fence and rolling in the porch dirt, stepped on, groaning, nasally grinding out notes and pissed off. This is what Ani DiFranco does organically. But, like the moth pictured on the cover of this new record (notably packaged in an environmentally-friendly paper sleeve), she wants to evolve. She uses horns, she dips her toes in funky waters, and figures out piano chords (though she is, as she states on her website, not a pianist), just to noodle in avant garde jazz. To me, this is not the reason to listen to DiFranco. A certain friend once said, "The girls don't think I'm dreamy, but they say, 'Wow, you really stood by your dream.'" That's how my liberated and dirty grrl classmates always felt about DiFranco. We loved her because she was so sure, so nasty-mouthed and frank about what she believed, and what she believed was totally liberal and feminist and pro-Earth and pro-little guy and raw. When we wanted a dose of that, we could get it from her. Perhaps it made her into a sort of college saint: When we needed a dose of righteous collegiate ideals, we counted on her to deliver it. It wasn't musically experimental - DiFranco must have twanged her guitar to near-broken in every show, creating a characteristically flat sound that we loved - but it was thick, rich, honest. She had the "Ani sound," a midrange, back-of-the-throat noise like syrup sliding. But when she started this jazz-funk evolution, I became, frankly, bored. I felt that what she produced was not great jazz, not pumping funk, and no longer expressive Ani.

I felt that way as I listened to Evolve, too - until I reached the ten minute and twenty-six second "opus" (as the press release deems it), "Serpentine." This is a poem of liberal-in-the-face-of-capitalism anger, set to old, Ani flat twang, with the famous Ani voice. It provides the essential piece that all her musical experiments do not: Intimacy. DiFranco earned fame by whispering intensely personal hurts to her audiences, like a shy friend who trusts you with her scars. "Serpentine" places the listener in a dark room with only you and her secrets. In contrast, the best of the experimental tracks, "Evolve," is an enjoyable enough jazz tune, playful and all over the scale like a twisted yodel. But it still strains against DiFranco's true style, which is a bit rough, bruised, and most loveable that way. Of course every artist must evolve. But the sound of honesty - that's a dream I wish Ani would stand by.
(PO Box 95 Ellicott Station Buffalo, NY 14205)


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