like it had been announced last year - and coherently with the artistic/personal
reasons that had made her start performing solo concerts again - Educated
Guess is the album that signals Ani DiFranco's return to the solo dimension
on record. And at least for this time this means "really solo":
in fact, not only she sang and played everything on the album, she also
recorded and mixed it on a vintage reel-to-reel eight track tape recorder.
There's mostly vocals and guitars, some pertinent bass lines, some essential
Wurlitzer touches on Bliss Like This and not much else: it's a pretty
sparse instrumentation, but the relationship between the lead and the
background vocals is a lot subtler than what it may sound at first.
year, the news about her decision to go back to solo had puzzled me
quite a bit: the five people line-up and her new - instrumental, stylistic
and vocal - flexibility had produced two fine albums: Up Up Up Up Up
Up and To The Teeth (both from 1999); then, the excellent studio double
Revelling/Reckoning (2001), the concert audio document So Much Shouting,
So Much Laughter (2002) and the Render DVD; while the compact Evolve
(2003) had made me feel already nostalgic for the now-gone era.
I guess people will talk of her "going back to her roots",
but I respectfully disagree: if this is (obviously) true in terms of
sheer numbers, it isn't when the aesthetical dimension is taken into
consideration. Her (relatively) recent flexibility and versatility are
maintained, first of all - but by no means only - in the vocal department,
where she is able to ignore those folk-derived - and too rigid - bar
lines she had adhered to in the past, and so making her interpretation
and phrasing more elastic and subtle. There's also a new urgency, which
has made her adopt a "dirtier" aesthetic dimension (think:
Tonight's The Night, some Lennon pages) where "truth" is seen
in opposition to (conventional) "beauty"; hence, not-so-precise
tunings and overdubbing, which can produce contrasts that at first will
make an attentive listener feel a bit perplexed (there are some brief
"in between the tracks" interludes where an already established
tonality clashes with the track that abruptly segues). All factors that
will contribute to make Educated Guess an album whose appeal will be
more "selective" than those albums that preceded it.
Guess surely proves not to be lacking in the variety dept., starting
with tracks such as the uptempo Bliss Like This and the beautiful soul
ballad Rain Check, where it's easy to imagine where the group would
have made its entrance. And listening to the triad made of the bossa
You Each Time, the folk ballad Animal and the spoken word track Grand
Canyon is proof enough to demonstrate how much territory she can cover.
Swim, Educated Guess, Bodily and Company are also tracks that's impossible
not to mention. As usual, the lyrics are intelligent and perceptive,
the narratives rich. Nice illustrated booklet - and make no mistake:
hers are still the best-smelling booklets in the business.
Beppe Colli 2004
| Jan. 18, 2004