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DiFranco’s latest stays the musical course

Marty Schroeder | Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ani DiFranco has an agenda in her latest “Reprieve,” and she wants everyone to know about it. Not that this is a bad thing – her music weaves and waves with lyrics more intelligent than any sort of pop music on the scene. Femme-punk or rainy day folk rock would be the genres in which DiFranco might find herself if she had to define her sound. Instead of looking for a genre, though, she looks for change, using her acoustic guitar as an axe to hack society into metamorphosis.

Growing up in Buffalo, DiFranco surrounded herself with art. She later moved to New York City at age 19 with little but a list of songs and a guitar. She is one of the most successful do-it-yourself musicians in the business, and has successfully fought off music conglomerates with her own brand of folk-punk that she weaves into this latest album.

However, this is not punk in the sense of edgy electric guitars and fast drums. The attitude is a middle-finger-in-the-air brand of punk that apologizes for nothing.

And it shows.

Her lyrics are sometimes sung, sometimes almost spoken and sometimes occupy that space in between. The third track on the album, “In the Margins,” is a sad, woeful journey through some DiFranco-style catharsis, while the sixth, “78% H20,” bounces along with the hint of synthesizers and staccato vocals punching the politicisms of her lyrics.

This politicism is in stark contrast with the juvenile and mindless lyrics of most pop music. The problem, however, is that her music is caught preaching to the choir. If a progressive, liberal feminist picks up the liner notes to this album, they are going to stand up next to Ani in righteous support for what she says.

If, on the other hand, an older conservative housewife who looks back to the better days finds this album, she’d be appalled at the subjects broached and never look into Ani DiFranco music again. It’s not hard to imagine which group DiFranco sees herself as representing. She can sing to all the liberal men and women out there, but when she’s done, the liberal men and woman will still be liberal, and the conservatives will still be conservative.

However, she doesn’t apologize for any of her lyrics, tearing gently through her songs and singing about what is important to her. This album deserves to be lauded for the mere fact it does not ask for permission to be what it is. Most pop seems to exist only in relation to the listeners who consume it, while “Reprieve” could exist on a deserted island and still make liberals smile and conservatives grimace. DiFranco’s DIY ethos goes so far to the point she started her own label, Righteous Babe Records.

In this way, she can sing about anything she wants and release whatever she wants. Luckily for her, she has enough of a fan base that she doesn’t have to go to a major label for support.

DiFranco’s latest is an ode to modern feminism and folk-punk. Those who agree with her and like her style of music will adore this album, as it is intelligent and musically very good, but those who don’t like acoustic punk or feminist lyrics shouldn’t bother. It’d be the same as a liberal listening Ted Nugent – people do not usually listen to political music that disagrees with their views.

This contradictory album finds its greatest strength and most hindering weakness in the same areas – the independence and individuality of this album results in a limited fan base.

But Ani DiFranco wouldn’t have it any other way.