Righteous Babe Records
In the past, reviews of Ani DiFranco here at the Independent have been collective efforts. The last time she played here, in April of last year, I set a husband-and-wife team loose on the task of previewing the performance with a little friendly debate, he largely skeptical and she a card-carrying, straight-ticket-voting lance corporal in the Righteous Babe Army. And it stayed friendly, although somewhere between assigning the article and getting the goods, in my mind’s eye I saw a circular saw chewing its way up the middle of the marital bed, down and cotton fuzz flying. At last report, the couple are still doing fine.
Before that it was a review of Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, with me playing the fan-baiting Turk to Rick Stern’s cautiously defiant Vienna of DiFranco apologism as a kind of civic pride. I can’t speak for Rick, but it was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve had. Predictably enough, incensed Ani fans wrote in to give me a piece of their minds for my alleged trespasses against half of the world’s population, let me know who I was messing with, etc. etc. “Yes,” I thought. “Finally. Finally a little rattle from the silent legions to let me know I’m doing my job right.” The thrill lasted until some idiot decided to send a piece of unsigned hate mail to one of the parties who wrote in to scold me.
The story doesn’t even end there; somehow I became a suspect in the case and there was no convincing the recipient of the offending diatribe that I plumb didn’t do it. Months down the road, this party (whose name I had yet to put a face to) came into the restaurant where I used to bus tables and, having waited for dessert and coffee to spring the trap, produced the offending missive and again tried to out me as its author in the company—and, I must assume, at least tacit complicity—of no less than eight dining companions.
So you’ll forgive me if I wince reflexively whenever I see a picture of Ani DiFranco. And, by the way, I’m still waiting for an apology.
What I really wanted to do was delegate the task of reviewing this new double album to someone whose reaction was going to surprise me. No such luck; the writers in the Indy stable who didn’t decline outright offered—with no explicit direction on my part, I might add—either to trash it or write a hymn to it, sound unheard. Or knew someone who was up for one or the other. Not what I was looking for at all. It’s telling that any new Ani DiFranco release can have this polarizing effect on people—reviewers even—before they even hear the music.
In the end, I decided to undertake the responsibility myself. And let’s face it: you probably don’t care what I think about it. Unless you just recently rode into this dimension on a time pod, chances are you’ve got some pretty firm ideas where you stand on Ani DiFranco, and Revelling/Reckoning probably won’t surprise you either way. It didn’t surprise me, I’ll tell you that. Having listened to the music a couple times through now, I’m still satisfied that Ani DiFranco the songwriter is pretty much who I thought she was all along: a passionate, committed, boundlessly enthusiastic and adventurous musician of curiously middling talent for so many ideas. I’m still not impressed by the personal dimensions to her lyrics beloved of so many, and that voice—like oil squirting around between two panes of glass—is something I doubt I will ever be able to appreciate. If that voice—staccato, puffing, breathless and feral, deadpan cool, bending to her every nuance—if that voice waters your melon, you can lay down the long green on Revelling/Reckoning without moment’s hesitation. As though you weren’t going to anyway.
It might not show, but I did a lot of reading to prepare myself for this class-action Ani listening. And I’m glad I did, too. In the past, when confronted about it, I’ve let my distaste for the music drive me into some strange polemics against the woman herself. In the end, I was surprised to learn how much I like about her. I’m impressed with what she’s done for her hometown of Buffalo. Hell, I love it that she still lives in Buffalo. I respect her thoughts on business philosophy as an extension of personal philosophy and admire the way she runs her record label. I agree with many of her political stances. There’s more to tell, but above all I admire the fact that she gets out there and does it so many days out of the year. It can’t always be easy to have the kind of fans she’s got and to have to face their daunting expectations every time she takes the stage—these thousands who project themselves onstage with her, using her person to triangulate their own with the person each of them thinks they are, wishes they were, wants to be. I came away with newfound respect.
It’s just this trivial matter of the music.