?Coming of age during the plague of Reagan and Bush / Watching capitalism gun down democracy / It had this funny effect on me? exclaims Ani DiFranco on her new record.
?Reckoning/Revelling? is DiFranco?s 15th album to date. This time around, DiFranco pleases her fans with an extra dosage by releasing a double album of completely new material.
DiFranco pioneered her way through the music world without the assistance of any big time music label. She did not follow the predictable route to success. Instead, DiFranco started her own indie label ?Righteous Babe,? and started releasing her own material on it.
Cut: 12 years later, DiFranco is signing up-and-coming bands on her label and selling out stadiums. She?s earning a loyal growing fanbase and the critics? utmost respect.
When the bigwigs of the record industry came knocking, she gave them nothing but the middle finger. Not bad for a little folksinger who started out touring in coffee shops in her hometown of Buffalo, New York.
The righteous babe?s debut album was a simple collection of queer feminist folk songs. Nothing more, nothing less: just DiFranco, her pick, her acoustic guitar and a mouthful of words to sing.
As she released more albums, she evolved into different genres of music, ranging from big band, to punk, to rap and now to funk. Adding more flavors to her palette did not disturb her politically aware lyrics.
When she was the giddy folkster, she sang about cultural no-no?s and their superficiality in ?Pick Yer Nose? singing: ?How come I can pick my ears but not my nose?? Undoubtedly, DiFranco is not one to compromise her honesty for any reason whatsoever.
Being a DIY girl hasn?t been easy, though. Radio stations overlooked her records and MTV denied her any air time. Being the underdog that she was, and in many ways still is, she felt every bump in the road to success.
But with her determination and love for music, DiFranco worked her way up with the college crowds and the gay community. DiFranco was praised by publications such as The Village Voice and Ms. long before Rolling Stone and Spin decided to follow the hype. Still, radio and TV stations would rather promote the Mickey Mouse Club than DiFranco.
At the same time DiFranco was rising in popularity, Lilith Fair was at its peak. Although DiFranco was not a Lilith performer, many were misguided into believing that she was ?just another one of those angry girl-with-a-guitar types.?
This comes as a surprise, because, contrary to the media?s perception of DiFranco, she is not a post-Alanis phenomenon. In 1991, when Alanis Morrisette was singing her bubblegum pop Canadian hit ?Too Hot? and Natalie Imbruglia was a star on an Australian soap opera called ?Neighbors,? DiFranco was hard at work singing anthems on womyn?s rights and talking about queer politics.
Today, DiFranco is still alive and kicking with truckloads of songs, not surprising since she started her first album with a 100-something catalogue of songs. This time DiFranco makes up for her absence with a double.
The first CD, ?Revelling,? is a very experimental collection of tracks. Heavily funk-influenced, the album opens with ?Ain?t That The Way,? a Macy Gray-like gospel-tinted song. The album seems to follow the funk mood with ?OK,? ?Fierce Flawless? and ?Heartbreak Even.?
On a darker note are tracks like the heartbreaking poem ?Tamburitza Lingua? and the wordplay-catchy ?Marrow.? Moreover, the spotlight shines on ?Kazoointoit,? which starts with a mysterious message on an answering machine.
The first CD also contains some ani-trademark ballads. ?Garden Of Simple? is both a love song and a political tune while ?Rock Paper Scissors? sounds like a sappy romantic song but has a late-show big band sound.
?Revelling? ends with an instrumental track, a first for DiFranco. In fact, seven tracks from the 29 on the album are instrumental, ranging from the tabla-charged ?Beautiful Night? to the sordid ?Prison Prism.? Although they are not as enthralling as the tracks with DiFranco?s remarkable lyrics, they serve as satisfying fillers.
Disc two, ?Reckoning,? is mellow. The opener, ?Your Next Bold Move,? sounds like a dreary ?To The Teeth,? but without the pizazz, and ?Grey? makes you wonder if DiFranco is on a permanent writer?s block.
Ironically, both tracks ?Reckoning? and the ?Revelling? are on the ?Reckoning? CD. ?Reckoning? is the standard ballad while ?Revelling? is a bluesy lullaby.
Many of the songs on this disc were heavily played during her tours, including the theme of sorrow ?So What? and DiFranco?s dissection of racial separation, ?Subdivision.?
Furthermore, ?Imagine That? is folk song that stands out like a sore thumb because it has, by far, the best melodic arrangement.
Another song that might sound familiar if you?ve seen DiFranco perform live is the swaying ?Sick Of Me.?
The collection is unlike any other DiFranco record. This album definitely depicts DiFranco in the middle of a musical transformation.
Although it does not have the political prowess of ?Imperfectly? or the frank rigor of ?Not A Pretty Girl,? it still is a masterpiece of melodic craftswomanship and sonical change.