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The autonomous Ani goes it alone

Julie Bender | Thursday, January 29, 2004

Sixteen albums since 1990, and Ani DiFranco is still singing out on the fringes of pop culture. Unafraid of risks, this fiercely independent singer/songwriter refuses to follow the mainstream, and instead has made a name for herself as a folkie feminist narrating with brutal honesty about politics, love and self-identity. Autonomy has been a key theme for DiFranco, who in 1990 started her own record label, Righteous Babe Records, in a formerly dilapidated church in downtown Buffalo, N. Y. Keeping with her theme of independence, DiFranco’s latest album, Educated Guess, is a solo work centered on the subjects of relationships ending and self-discovery. In contrast to her recent albums, which have included funky beats and multi-instrument layers, Educated Guess is a paired-down, back-to-roots romp with DiFranco and her acoustic guitar. Paired-down by no means, however, implies a low quality album. As with all of her albums, DiFranco pours her heart and soul into her words and the intricate guitar on her songs. This album certainly is all “Ani;” she is the sole artist behind all of the music, lyrics, recording and mixing. Made from 8-track, reel-to-reel equipment, the album has a vintage, homemade sound complete with background noises, loose melodies and four spoken-word poems.The first song on the album, “Swim,” is host to a jaunty guitar echoing DiFranco’s light, slightly off-kilter vocals. Breaking free from a drowning relationship is the theme of this song; DiFranco sings, “I let you surround me / I let you drown me / out with your din / and then I learned how to swim.” Self-assured emotion closes the song with DiFranco’s confident discovery: “I found I missed no one / just listening to the swishing of distant cars.”Lyrics have always been DiFranco’s forté, and the muted guitar of the title song, “Educated Guess,” gives her words the focus they deserve. “I dream in skin scented sentences / of a stronger faster fiercer you / and to each noun, verb and predicate / I dedicate a vivid hue,” DiFranco sings, challenging her audience to “take an educated guess” about her. In her spoken word piece, “Grand Canyon,” DiFranco’s distinct enunciation delivers a biting critique of the state of women’s rights in America. “People,” she says, “we are standing at ground zero / of the feminist revolution / yeah, it was an inside job / stoic and sly / one we’re supposed to forget / and downplay and deny.”The sparse, acoustic sound of this album may give the impression that it is an easy listen. Educated Guess, however, is far from melodic background music. Instead, DiFranco requires her audience to listen actively as she weaves her messages around her strumming and string picking. At times, such music can become a chore, but for fans in the mood for deep introspection and grating social critiques, Educated Guess is a good listening option.

Contact Julie Bender at jbender@nd.edu