DiFranco Tosses in Her Two Cents' Worth

Someone suggested that producing albums is like being

pregnant and giving birth--a long, ardent, and creative process which is

both painful and rewarding. Each new record bears the undeniable

mark of the musicians who bore it into the world. Ani DiFranco's latest,

the aptly-named Dilate, is her eighth effort since the 1990

release of her self-titled debut (and a beautiful creation besides). Though

DiFranco drags us through some new territory, the self-produced

album, as always, wears the markings of the Buffalo-based multitalent

who brought it to life.

From the opening track, DiFranco stands her ground as the

queen of no-fuss folk. "Untouchable Face" enters like a soft candle in a

dark room, the guitars flickering softly as DiFranco sings to a nameless

ex-lover, "Tell you the truth I prefer the worst of you/Too bad you had

to have a better half/She's not really my type." Despite its cozy feel,

the chorus burns: "Fuck you/and your untouchable face," DiFranco croons

in her best breathy soprano, subtle but clear as broken glass.

In fact, Dilate finds DiFranco returning to themes of

solitude and missed chances. Its second track, "Outta Me, Onto You"

is a chilling and furious track with shouts and low growls warning a

lover of impending devastation. DiFranco covers everything--from the

thrilling, rhythmic guitars to the rolling bass--except the drums

are played by Andy Stochansky, who makes every rhythm sound effortless and

wily. Stochansky reappears throughout the album, perfectly

complementing DiFranco's music, although he doesn't lend his voice to the album (something he did on DiFranco's previous works).

"Superhero" opens with a gorgeous bluegrass ramble which sets

the pace for its ambling storyline. "You've been gone exactly two

weeks/Two weeks and three days," DiFranco sings, pain and longing

evident in her rough, warm voice. "I used to be a superhero...You are

like a phone booth that I stumbled into/And now look at me, I am just

like everybody else." Her metaphors are clear and striking; love

changes us all, turns us into people who can resonate with the top 40

hits and Hallmark cards--and sometimes it's disgusting.

In the title track, DiFranco mirrors her life on the road against

her feelings of love for another. The guitars crash and tinkle, like

falling into bed from a great height, as she sings, "Life used to be life-like/Now

it's more like show biz/I wake up in the night and I don't know where

the bathroom is." "Shameless" breaches the subject of adultery in a

delightful, romping tune whose main characters are becoming

increasingly careless in their love affair.

DiFranco is a master at setting up scenes in her work, melding

lyrics and melody together, and "Done Wrong" is a perfect example.

It's told from within the haven of a coffeehouse on a cold, rainy New

York night; the steel guitar sidles in and shakes off its raincoat,

taking its place at the counter beside its acoustic mate; the drums tap their

feet on the welcome mat softly. DiFranco's soft voice pleads with a cold

lover, "How could you beg me to stay/Reach out your hands and

plead/And then pack up your eyes and run away/As soon as I agreed?"

Religion takes its turn on Dilate, emerging first in

DiFranco's rendition of "Amazing Grace." Even this most traditional of

songs is transformed into something new as she brings in everything

from churchbells to hammond organ. The first two verses are

conventional; later verses are done in a call-and-response fashion, with

a phoned-in voice prompting DiFranco's own vocals. In "Adam and

Eve," a woman comes into her own as her lover imagines their

relationship as that of God's first couple: "I am truly sorry about all

of this/I envy you your ignorance/I hear that it's bliss."

DiFranco reiterates her hearty musical independence on

"Napoleon," a song to a more-famous musician who's crossed over to

the major labels. "Will you miss your old friends/Once you've proven

what you're worth," she wonders. "When you're a big star, will you

miss the earth?"

It's this indie spirit which allows DiFranco to move at her own

pace, producing albums as quickly as she wishes, touring constantly

and remaining in close contact with her listeners. Despite the increase

in media interest, she hasn't sacrificed her integrity for something more

profitable. In the closing song on Dilate she explains,

"Everything I do is judged/And they mostly get it wrong/But oh well...

I do it for the joy it brings/Because I am a joyful girl." People don't

sell their children, after all--they hold onto them, nurture them and

release them as gifts to the world.