DiFranco Arms 'To The Teeth' With Jazz, Hip-Hop And The Artist

New album includes backing vocals by the former Prince.

For her third album of 1999, punk folkie Ani DiFranco takes another leap

into the musical unknown, sprinkling her topical sung/spoken folk songs

with funk and dance grooves courtesy of The Artist, former James Brown

horn player Maceo Parker and rapper Corey Parker.

"I wanted to meet her because she doesn't allow nobody to mess with her

vision," The Artist said last month while in New York promoting his

upcoming album.

DiFranco's 13-track To the Teeth (Nov. 16) opens with the quietly

seething acoustic title track, a seven-minute song with lyrics ripped

from the headlines. In keeping with her poetic style of social commentary,

DiFranco, 29, rails in a near whisper against the recent spate of school

shootings with such caustic lines as "Schoolkids keep trying to teach us/

What guns are all about/ Confuse liberty with weaponry/ And watch your

kids act it out."

DiFranco released her 12th solo studio album Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up

— which featured such songs as "Hat Shaped Hat" (RealAudio

excerpt) — in early 1999 and followed it this summer with

her second collaboration with folk singer Utah Phillips, Fellow

Workers.

Seemingly inspired by the more groove-oriented nature of her summer

"F-Word Tour," DiFranco embellishes new songs such as the lazily funky

"Soft Shoulder" with tuba, trumpet, Wurlitzer organ, clavinet and subtle

flute accents.

"We've done a lot of experimenting with instrumentation and stuff along

the way. And I'm sure I'll continue," DiFranco said in January about her

new musical direction. "I find for myself — and I think it's an

inherently human thing — that you can only do one thing for so long.

So I played solo and toured solo for a whole bunch of years."

In a meeting of the minds of two notoriously uncompromising musicians,

The Artist, formerly known as Prince, adds spectral, soulful backing

vocals to the song "Providence." The herky-jerky, seven-minute percussive

folk song about a chance meeting between two star-crossed lovers is just

the first of the upcoming collaborations between the pair.

DiFranco also is slated to appear on the song "I Love U, but I Don't

Trust U Anymore," a melancholy, falsetto pop ballad on The Artist's

Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (Nov. 9).

The Artist said he had wanted to meet DiFranco for some time and had

long admired her ability to follow her muse without interference from

the outside.

"I didn't look at it as two people with strong visions colliding. I think

she just views it as the absurdity of if someone did [mess with her

vision]. She came over and we jammed for three or four hours, and she

was just dancing the whole time and didn't want to stop."

The Artist said the two decided to work together after their jamming and

dancing session at his Paisley Park studio outside Minneapolis earlier

this year.

To the Teeth is DiFranco's 13th solo studio album in nearly 12

years, all released on her own Righteous Babe label. The new album features

more electric guitar than the singer's previous work, some courtesy of

Toronto musician Kurt Swinghammer, who adds subtle backing to DiFranco's

acoustic picking on the jazzy, soulful folk tune "Cloud Blood."

DiFranco also dips into a hip-hop vibe on the cathartic, jittery,

sung/rapped solo piece "Freakshow" and the New Orleans funk-jazz tune

"Swing," which mixes Parker's saxophone, turntable scratching, a Wurlitzer

organ, vocals sung through a megaphone and a rap interlude from MC Corey

Parker. The album also contains backing by DiFranco's tourmates —

bassist Jason Mercer, keyboardist Julie Wolf and drummer Daren Hahn.

Other songs on the album include the melancholic funk of "Wish I May,"

the jazzy, traveling blues ballad "Going Once" and the simmering folk

ballad "Hello Birmingham," a song about the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian

by an allegedly pro-life shooter in DiFranco's hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.

The album also features the bouncy folk song "Back Back Back," the solo

ballad "I Know This Bar" and a pair of songs that sound inspired by trip-hop:

"Carry You Around" and the skittering, banjo-laced story of lovers reuniting,

"The Arrivals Gate."