Another gift from reader extraordinaire Andy.
The full name of this album is “When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You’ll Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You Know That You’re Right.”
So, now I only have less than 100 words to review it. Oops, and that used up a few more!
As you can guess from the title, Ms.Apple is a rather wordy lass with a few angst issues. This album sits squarely in a genre occupied by fellow reviewees Higgins and Di Franco.
The musicianship is top notch, with a nice balance of orchestration and rawness, and Fifi can hold a tune better than most. She structures her laments to a world of difficult loving in an approachable conversational tone.
I find a few too many tracks here to be pedestrian and same, same, but she can nail it:
File under: iLike
After a perhaps unlucky 13 reviews we have reached the end of my (and your) Ani DiFranco odyssey. Spanning two decades of my blogging time it is has been part joy, part chore.
The woman is certainly prolific and there has not been a huge variation in quality or ingenuity across the baker’s dozen of albums.
My level of engagement and amour has varied considerably, however, as I’ve wrestled with the challenge of keep an open mind under the barrage of new compositions.
I am positive I had not listened to this album at all since picking it up cheap in some second-hand store a year or so ago. So, the past day has been an immersion in Ani’s musings on the state of the world and the state of her mind.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the opus. There is a slightly different mix of musical vs spoken word, an engaging tale about Hiroshima (inspiring the album cover), and some nice gentle guitar work. It is very much at the sedate, sombre end of her musical spectrum… but worth giving a listen.
And thus I am granted a reprieve. Goodnight Ani…
File under: Part delight, part respite
So here’s album #12 from my DiFranco library.
Many of you may be asking “why would one own so many different albums from one artist?”. I certainly have been.
The more recent albums have often been bought in some bout of consumerism (i.e. I’ve been at JB HiFi and uncertain what would satisfy my musical craving). There is so much material in Ani’s catalogue and she releases new albums so frequently, that she has become my retail equivalent of a “booty call”.
Alas, like most habits of excess, there are diminishing returns (i.e. less and less buzz) with each new foray.
Seeking a reminder of what I was in for with this album, I was exciting by this blurb claiming was Ani’s first real solo effort in a decade. I was imaging some return to one lady and her guitar.
But, of course, Ani is now a big time multi-instrumentalist (and recording wiz), so we get a full-sounding effort with multi-tracked vocals. If you’d never heard anything else from her, you’d probably be very taken with her verbosity, neat spoken word thang, and the NYC-in-the-good-old-days reminisces.
I was less so… I’ll just reminisce for the golden days of her recording output.
File under: A lot of education is also dangerous
Here we go with yet another DiFranco effort, this one listened to on a long plane flight and, again, in a hotel room in Bangkok (I’m here for the next couple of weeks).
Yet again, here’s an ADF album of more recent provenance that doesn’t get much play in my world. Not much on here rang a bell.
The jazz-isation of her oeuvre continues. This one adds a bit more piano action to the horns, and also a far bit of voice effects (on the backing vocals more than those up the front).
It is a lot more mellow (especially when compared to her early work and to the live recordings).
It’s all pretty inoffensive aurally (even if she tries a little of the usual political provocation…and spits out the feline-female anatomy phrase), and makes for a pleasant chill-out listen. It didn’t send me to sleep on the plane (but little does), and she stays just on the safe side of parody in terms of her vocal quirks. She does deliver yet another another epic treatise on the state of the world – this time labelled Serpentine – and a real throughback to her pared back days.
OK, get to go sleep the noodles off now.
File under: The cover has an Intelligent Design
I have seen Ani DiFranco in the live arena a number of times and she has yet to disappoint.
Even though I have not been particularly enamoured with her recent output, she has a fantastic capacity to liven them up in person. More impressively, she reshapes her classics to her new sound.
I saw her in late 2008 (I think), and she was a ball of folk-funk (although her accompanying glock did not rock – how’s that for some Dr.Suess action?).
On this double live collection Ani goes very close to showcasing her competencies. The second disc is very impressive, with jazzed up full band versions of her early classics like Dilate, Gravel, Loom and 32 Flavors.
She also belts out her most strident and robust post-911 political rant Self Evident.
This would a go-to showcase of ADF’s career if you only bought disc 2. The opening disk is pretty much disposable: mainly newer, duller work.
File under: The gal can yell
I guess if you Ani Di Franco and it’s been 16 months since your last release, then it must be time for a double album of studio tracks.
This twin-set landed in mid-2001, and I bought it, but it’s never got much rotation on my stereo. In setting up my iPod for this week’s reviews, I discovered I hadn’t even loaded it up onto my i-Tunes, and the fancy box it came packaged in bares few marks of wear and tear.
After listening to it for much of today, I can see why. This is a dull set of tracks that has left no impression on me.
I just stood at a photocopier for almost two hours (the glamour that is academic life!) with this playing in my ears, and I took little joy from any tracks.
The tracks are mainly acoustic efforts, but with Ani cycling through a wide range of instruments and leaning on her horn-playing buddies again.
Unfortunately its all very slow and meandering with little of the oomph of her earlier works (or her on-stage persona).
Not a single tune on here would make my ADF best-of compilation. That’s a poor strike rate for a 29 track release.
File under: I don’t reckon…
So it turns out Ani DiFranco actually popped out three albums in 1999. I had forgotten about this curiosity that has gathered much dust on my shelves since its purchase.
Here ADF hooks up with a Santa look-alike named Utah. He is (or was) a fascinating character – a folk-singer, story-teller, poet, activist, anarchist, and train-jumper (amongst other things).
Di Franco’s musical contribution here is fairly limited, merely adding some strumming and rhythms and occasional vocals loops using lyrics from Phillips’ tales. Utah weaves some fascinating stories of union struggles, forgotten warriors of the class struggle and the like. Think Lisa Simpson:
This isn’t the sort of CD you’d listen to regularly (I certainly haven’t), or play as background music (the spoken voice is too hard to ignore). But the yarns are well-told, engaging and humorous on occasion. It might serve as a defacto old Grandfather for those of lacking such (as I have a Communist granddad in my past, it could well play this role).
Ani was doing a good thing here; giving much-needed exposure to a voice many would not have heard otherwise. It doesn’t quite count as music to the ears, but perhaps to the brain. Here’re some nutrients for you (not from the album):
File under: Hail fellow well met
1999 (now eleven years or two decades ago!) was a very productive one for Ms.Di Franco.
She knocked out two albums. This second one is the better of the two by a considerable margin.
She has pretty much abandoned the folkie singer+guitar schtick for a much more sophisticated jazzy approach.
The songwriting is still very strong and direct, but the groove is funkier and more layered. She brings in some funk legends (Maceo Parker and Prince), and she clearly has a fast learning process as she gets the rhythms and syncopation working a treat (although it was not a huge leap for her standard style).
As a soundtrack to a hungover New Year’s Day this album has the contemplative, not-to-pushy vibe that I require. The noodly guitars and horn blasts are all sufficiently subtle and measured so as to not cause too much grief.
The title track, a post-Columbine anti-gun rant has a great line about moving to Canada, while Freakshow is almost as good a circus-life tune as the one from Ani’s buddy Rory McLeod (look out for a review of that in early 2012!).
File under: As dental as anything
Ani DiFranco has never (as far as I know) deigned to grant her bandmates a collective noun. There is no Ani & the Ants, or DiFranco & the Dynamos.
This wasn’t too much of an issue on her first eight albums, but the time we get to this first of two releases from 1999 (she IS prolific), you start to get the feeling the folks in the background are getting stiffed.
No longer are we listening to a solo artist belting out tunes on an acoustic guitar with a little help from her friends. Instead, we have an album with extended jams between bass and drums, with horn bursts and a genuine band feel.
Given her claimed righteousness, perhaps this could be recognised via nomenclature.
The album itself represents a considerable departure, or perhaps extension, of previous moves. The song-writing has got even more hit and miss.
She nails a couple of rippers – the acerbic State of the Nation harangue ‘Tis of Thee and, most successfully, the divorced parent counselling session Angry Any More.
The latter track is worth chasing up, the two big jamfests less so, as she (and her Aardvarks) lack the magnetism of a Parliament/Funkadelic 12 minuter.
File under: Beware the sun Icarus
I have a pretty simplistic view of the album creation process (as regular readers may have already adjudged).
I like to think that the final album running order reflects the sequence in which the tracks were written and recorded.
If that were the case with this album, then something substantial happened about two-thirds of the way through.
The front half of this album is DiFranco at her poppiest and most adept. The title track, Gravel and As Is are all the logical progression from her earlier work, mining the agit-folk vein but with a real ear for catchiness and sing-along-ability.
She then delivers perhaps her finest moment, the plaintive chronicle of life with a downward spiralling lover, The Little Girls:
More gems follow including Loom and Pixie. Then it all gets schizophrenic on the listener.
The album gets all noodly and experimental (especially on the final three tracks). In come the samples, the indulgent basslines, the horns. Actually, the video clip above shows where they were going. The earlier immediacy and impact gets swamped by the musicality and showwomanship.
This transformation is astounding and concerning, although not enough to substantially alter my view that this is a very good album. Indeed, I’d never even noticed the final tracks before…
File under: Not completely impervious to attack