If her new album is any indication, singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco is slipping away from
her old label of punk-folkie and evolving into … a funk-folkie.
But such a shift shouldn’t surprise fans of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based artist who, over the
course of 11 albums released on her own Righteous Babe label, has confounded critics
and dodged pigeonholers by continually making the music she wants to make and being
the person she wants to be.
With her self-produced 12th release, Up Up Up Up Up Up (Jan. 19), DiFranco,
teaming with bassist Jason Mercer, drummer Andy Stochansky and keyboardist/backing
vocalist Julie Wolf, is still making up her own rules. And she’s finding that, at the moment,
those rules suggest an intriguing juxtaposition of folk against funk.
“My sound in the beginning was very folk-oriented,” DiFranco said. “Finger-picking and
singing verse-chorus-verse. And I think that my mind is just starting to go in its own, new,
little directions. And it’d be hard for me to describe those verbally, but I think they’re
evidenced on the new record.”
The opening cut, ” ‘Tis of Thee,” re-introduces DiFranco’s folk side. Quiet acoustic
guitars, a gentle drum beat and the warm tones of a Wurlitzer organ back DiFranco’s
politically pointed lyrics about an unjustly arrested black man.
But on “Come Away From It,” DiFranco cops a soul stance, following a spare intro with
pleading vocals — begging and coaxing at turns — seemingly directed at someone
battling an addiction.
Shifting into a folk-pop gear with the banjo-infused “Angry Anymore,” DiFranco
showcases a pop sensibility present on earlier albums such as 1995′s Not a Pretty
Girl and on such songs as “Shy” (RealAudio excerpt).
On the spiritual “Everest,” DiFranco is accompanied only by bassist Mercer on upright
bass and herself on acoustic guitar. She closes the track by repeating the hypnotic and
paradoxical chorus, “From the heights of the Pacific/ To the depths of Everest.”
A funk flavor permeates the tracks “Jukebox” and “Know Now Then,” in which a lengthy,
aggressively funk instrumental intro gives way to space-age feedback shooting over the
tip-tap of a soft drum beat.
DiFranco closes the album with two contrasting tracks. The spare “Trickle Down”
employs acoustic guitar, a water cooler and an accordion and tells the story of living in a
town economically dependent on a closing steel mill. “Hat Shaped Hat” is a shuffling,
everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, nearly 13-minute extended jam replete with clavinet,
upright bass, organ, drums, a drum machine, acoustic guitar and piano.
While recording the album at King’s Way studio in New Orleans, DiFranco said she and
her crew made a concerted effort to keep studio tricks to a minimum.
“I used very little effects at all in the mixing of the record. You’d be surprised. It was all the
sounds of different rooms and different microphones that were there, different amplifiers,”
DiFranco said. “I went down there with none of my own gear. I didn’t bring any of my own
amps or mics, just a few guitars. And I thought, ‘I’m gonna use this house and the sounds
it has to offer us,’ so that’s kind-of what the album sounds like.”
“I think that I feel I have more and more musical ideas as I get older,” DiFranco added.
“Basically, I just have more ideas about a lot of things. I feel like I’ve only really just
started my personal musical journey.”