Ani DiFranco – [Album]

Tuesday, 04 December 2007

After 19 albums in 18 years, Ani DiFranco has made an indelible impression upon the pop and folk music worlds as well as the political conscience (both sexual and federal) of her listeners. Her fans worship her and that makes a biblically entitled collection of her songs appropriate; Canon culls some choice cuts from the singer’s storied and celebrated career and presents the enduring image of DiFranco in the general public’s consciousness: a politically aware and emotionally charged songwriter that attacks her subjects with equal amounts of poetry, catharsis and biting criticism. However, as with so many sets of its type that are often characterized more by those tracks that are absent than those present, Canon does present a fairly two-dimensional portrait of the singer.

Canon perfectly represents the side of DiFranco’s music that is very outspoken and outward looking (tracks including “Cradle & All,” “Millennium Theater” and “Fire Door” are all essential listening from that angle) but conspicuously absent are those songs that find this most pragmatic of songwriters looking inward and/or giving insight into her own mental mechanics; those moments that bring the singer herself into focus in addition to the things and events that surrounded her at the moment those songs were written (“Swan Dive,” “Educated Guess” and “Modulation,” as examples, would have been welcome inclusions in that regard). In short, there is a lot more of “you” in Canon than there is “I” and while the songs included are certainly great tracks with which to introduce DiFranco, they don’t show everything. Perhaps that’s the point—to bait listeners but leave them wanting more.

The bait is certainly there in Canon for existing fans as well, as the singer has graciously gone back and re-recorded five old songs from as early as her self-titled debut through 1996’s Dilate. While none of these songs are previously unreleased, you’d be hard-pressed to realize it; rethought and realigned, the five re-recorded songs—particularly “Your Next Bold Move” and “Both Hands”—offer a new perspective on the material as a bit more confidence and self-assurance translates into “Both Hands” compared to the fairly green original version, and DiFranco trims down the scale of “Napoleon” and “Shameless” to more closely resemble the singer’s recent work.

As stated, Canon does paint a two-dimensional picture of an honestly multi-facetted songwriter, but it may have been specifically designed that way; these songs are, after all, very strong expositions of DiFranco’s public face and the album could be viewed as a business card. That said, Canon offers a taste of Ani DiFranco as most people that aren’t familiar with the songwriter see her. Pick it up and throw it on. First acquaint, then lose yourself in it and become a fan. At that point, go buy DiFranco’s albums to get the rest of the story. Canon is a great gateway for the uninitiated.

Canon is out now on Righteous Babe.

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