Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, April 21

Gapers Block

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It comes as no surprise to anyone for me to admit that I am not a music reviewer. In fact, to be honest, I usually don't care for reviews, since I operate under the premise that I know what I like and I like what I know. So, to avoid what could be possibly another pretentious music lover's rants and raves disguised as a review I offer the following musings about Ani Difranco's offerings on tour and a smidge about her latest CD, Educated Guess.

What amazes me about Ani Difranco is that she is constantly evolving her sound and crafting her music to reflect a cleaner and more essential side. Each album and subsequent tour (she has been touring for 15 years in support of 14 original albums) seems to push the boundaries of what is expected of her and tugs at her fans in a way that proclaims, "I'm not like the last album at all, I have changed. Love me or hate me." True, other artists attempt this same feat, yet none come close to the righteous babe herself. Her recent stop at the Chicago Theatre January 17th to support her latest album consisted of her, her guitar, and some amps. Running onstage after the opening act, Ani was handed a guitar and launched right into "Shameless" from Dilate. Afterwards she was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience prompting her to say "Thanks and Hello!" She played little of her older work, much to the chagrin of the audience of true fans, who yelled out requests from her vast discography.

Proclaiming that she was not in control of the songs she sang and referring to her hand where she had written her set list, Ani laughed at requests for "Both Hands" and the like by declaring, "No, no, no, it's projectile style tonight, I'm just throwing it all up tonight." The majority of her set was filled with selections from Educated Guess and some title-less songs that she had not yet preformed for an audience. Most of her newer songs reflect feelings of hurt, love, and loss, no doubt inspired by her recent divorce from her husband. The songs also reflect a smoother transition into a jazz-inspired style, leaving behind much of her trademark staccato guitar style and edgy, sometimes raw lyrics. A jazzier style without the accompaniment of a band results in honest songs that sometimes break your heart.

Ani interrupted the show with discourse on the current political state in the U.S. as well as with two spoken word pieces, "Grand Canyon" and "The True Story of What Was," which worked much better live than as recorded on Educated Guess. The passion and emotion seems missing in the spoken word pieces on her album -- they come across as mildly rehearsed and very much re-recorded until the perfect sound was achieved. The live recitations brought the works to powerful life.

One beef about her shows: they are too short. After an hour of playing, the audience was ready for an intermission, not the end of the show. Sure, Difranco has spent the last 15 years of her life touring and churning out albums at a prolific rate, yet with such an impressive track record, you can't help but want more from her than one hour.

Ani recorded Educated Guess herself on a reel-to reel in two locations -- New Orleans and Buffalo. All the playing, singing, recording, and mixing was done by hers truly. It's simple and complex at the same time. Simple in that it's mostly just Ani with a guitar and the occasional organ thrown in, supplemented with incidental sounds like the wails from a passing train and the falling of rainwater. Her focus for the album seems to be love and the loss thereof. She is brutally honest on "Bodily," in a way letting it all out getting all the hurt and anger out of her head: "You broke me bodily/the heart ain't of the half of it/And I'll never learn to laugh at it/ In my good natured way/ In fact I'm laughing less in general/ But I learned a lot at my own funeral/ And I know you'd be the death of me/So I guess that's the price I pay." It seems to be her declaration of what love does when it goes bad.

I'll save you from more adulations and criticisms; they could go on and on for days and days. In fact, there is an endless supply of people all too willing to either discount Ani Difranco or give praise. In the end, she is just good. Never afraid to piss people off, whether by wearing her politics on her sleeve or evolving her style to reflect who she is, Ani is not afraid to be righteous and honest, a quality that many current musicians seem to lack.

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