I’m entranced by Ani DiFranco, the independent-minded “righteous babe” with her quirky guitar style and vocals that swerve from sultry to surly to sulking instantly.
Her latest album, “educated guess,” is a departure from recent efforts. DiFranco stripped away the layers of musicians and production that marked her last album, “Evolve,” along with much of the jazz influence. gone are the saxophones, clarinets and miscellaneous instruments that seemed to overpower “Evolve.”
She recorded “educated guess” alone with an analog reel-to-reel – backing vocals, bass guitar, everything.
It’s a stark contrast, which explains part of the reasoning behind the title, and the title song:
so school is in session
get your chin off your desk
now pick up your pencil
and turn over your test
use your education
and take an educated guess
Trying to figure out difranco’s musical genius based on any period in her decade-long career is just such an “educated guess.”
But there is no guessing about the two pillars of DiFranco’s genius. Both are on display on “Educated Guess.”
Ani’s guitar work is as sharp as ever. In fact, the bare, acoustic focus of this album serves as a reminder from whence the legend of this Buffalo native folky arose.
But it is always the lyrics that mark a DiFranco album. There’s a mixture of politics, personal matters, and poetry in a DiFranco effort that makes a wordsmith tingle with excitement. “Educated Guess” is no different.
Get this gem from the title track:
i’ve got a slot at eye level like
a speakeasy door
and i know you know the password
cuz i’ve seen you here before
and i’ve got something sweet for you
and i don’t care if it is more than you deserve
i’ve got a lot of love and a lot of nerve
so watch me while i take this curve
Interestingly, on the album, it sounds a lot like she says “I’ve got a slot at *heart* level like a speakeasy door.” Which makes a lot more sense, and might be a small glimpse into the heart of the rewriting process that goes on in crafting a near-perfect bit of poetic verse.
or this, from “Origami:”
i know men are delicate
who need women to unfold them
hold them when they cry
but i am tired of being your savior
and i am tired of telling you why
There’s also some spoken-word poetry for those who aren’t down with the free-stylin’ folkiness: “Platform,” “The True Story of What Was,” and “Grand Canyon.”
Despite the craft involved in sculpting this album, I miss the full-band effect, and I hope DiFranco will take these songs on the road with some more instruments, perhaps for a third live album to complement “Living in Clip” and “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter.”
Because the album seems to build to a crescendo, and on “Company,” “Raincheck” and “Bubble,” I found myself adding a drum line in my mind, something that Andy Stochansky might beat out behind DiFranco’s lyrics and guitar.
(all lyrics available here)
As a side note, I’d comment on the first review of this album: Mark really liked the artwork for this album. I have to admit that I was not similary impressed. It was good. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s something you should be used to from DiFranco (witness the booklet that came with “Living in Clip,” or the “Revelling/Reckoning”)
However, Mark is spot-on noting the exceptional nature of DiFranco’s music. But she’s been singing about love and loss for a long time.