Ani Difranco - Canon

2008-05-19 08:21
You can count the female-singer-songwriters who get away with political preaching about feminism, abortion, gay rights and politics on one hand with a finger chopped off. Ani Difranco is one of them. Though she’s not as rich as she could have been, and still plays college tours instead of stadiums most of the time, she’s secured her creative freedom by keeping ownership of her songs. And this collection was handpicked by her. The result is a retrospective that gives a broad, very varied impression of her work over almost two decades and dozens of albums. Depending on your taste, and your level of tolerance for being lectured about the wrongs and rights of the world, you’ll probably iPod some songs - and only listen to others once.

Ani has a particular perspective. In many of her songs, she pictures herself in some kind of landscape, looking over it, and judging love, or the weird workings of the world. She often addresses her songs to a mythical "you", so it’s hard not to feel accused, and occasionally alienated. The bungie plucking and strumming and her jagged vocal attacks sung in quavering high tones that may appeal to some lesbian hippie college subcult but are merely irritating enough to ruin what is essentially a well written song, with brilliant narrative lyrics that describe stuff like "Magazine-quality men talking on the corner" ("Fire Door").

She has a tendency towards crude leftist cliché – even the cover art, of birds flying out of a Cannon (geddit, Canon, duh!) - that probably appeals to the college politico crowd is a case in point. There’s a reason many people grow out of that.
On the other hand, this album is also packed with real beauties, with musical stories that put you right there with her; in the bathroom where she’s locked herself to think. With 36 songs in total to choose from you’ll find more than an album’s worth of brilliant punk-flavoured folk, or is it jazz, or is it pop? And like her male counterpart Bob Dylan, Ani’s stayed young-hearted enough to experiment, and sometimes fail to please everyone at once. As if pleasing people was a real artist’s job, or something!

Ani’s spoken word is some of the best out there. Can you hear "Coming up" without wanting to hitch across America, stopping only in bars? Following it are two escape-themed gems, "Cradle & All" and "“Shy". And there are also moments of pure sublimity on tracks like "Hello Birmingham" and "Grey", when it’s tempting to fall completely in love with Ani. These are usually perfect descriptions of loss, sadness and guilt, like "You Had Time", where it feels more like she’s singing from the heart, than from her undeniably clever head. If, like she claims she is on "Grey", wired that way too, these will be the reasons you can only, in the end, adore her, even when she’s bloody annoying.

She says it best, perhaps, on the jazzy new version of "Overlap": "I build each one of my songs/out of glass/so you can see me inside of them/I suppose/or you could just leave the image of me/in the backround, I guess/and watch your own reflection/ superimposed".

Recommended to fans of Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Sinead O Connor, and perhaps, cautiously, Erykah Badu.

- Jean Barker

It must be hard to be Ani Difranco. There’s so much wrong with the world, and people, and love, and after listening to her Canon - a retrospective collection celebrating her career so far - it’s clear Ani just can’t ignore what’s wrong and just shut up and sing, like most of us do.

What to read next: Kalahari

galamatias 2008/07/12 3:56 PM
32 flavors and then some Let me begin by stating for the record that I am a heterosexual male who thinks Ani is the most intelligent and challenging female artist since Patti Smith or Laurie Anderson. (If your response to those names is 'who?' then rather go back to listening to Miley or Alanis - maybe when you're big you'll understand.) To suggest that Ani is only for lesbian varsity sister is a little naive (not to mention cliched and insulting.) There are very few artists who remain outside the mainstream and develop a unique career (Mike Scott maybe, Hamell on Trial definitely - if you don't know, prehaps you never should.) And to suggest that Ani's collection is not worth much effort because it has a prosaic cover picture - I suggest you go back to tasteful Girl Power masterpieces that feature she-males delicately spreading their legs for the camera (exhibit A: Hard Candy) - now that's something you won't find Ani having to do. See we love her for her mind, not because we're told she's sexy for her age ..
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