Archive for the ‘Ani DiFranco’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ANI DIFRANCO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #208 (May 10, 2021).

I was a huge fan of Ani DiFranco when she came out.  I loved her indie style and her cool percussive acoustic guitar playing.  I stopped listening to her when she turned more jazzy/soulful.  Given her vast output, I’ve probably missed about fifteen albums.  Actually, when I looked her up, I see that she has slowed down on her studio output (so it’s only about 9 albums that i haven’t heard).

I thought that perhaps I would enjoy her newer stuff is it was played acoustically lie this.  And I realized I really liked this first song, which I assumed was new.  But, in fact it’s from an album I have.

Ani opened her set with “Everest” from the 1999 album, Up Up Up Up Up Up, a song that for me is about viewing life through different lenses and finding beauty.

I probably haven’t listened to this album in a decade, but this reminded me of why I liked her so much back then.  The melody and her guitar picking style is so expressive and her lyrics, as always are thoughtful.  I love the sound she gets from her guitar too, so rich, with a great low end.

I was actually a little surprised that she played these older songs, because her new album is getting some airplay (around here at least).  But “Not a Pretty Girl” is such an iconic feminist song that it’s always great to hear.

Next, she sings the title track to her 1995 album, Not a Pretty Girl, which shakes the shackles of stereotypes.

She switches to a hollow-bodied electric guitar for this song (with some interesting tuning, I’m guessing).  Again, terrific sound.  What’s interesting is that when she first sang this song, she sang with bite in her voice.  Now, all these years later, the song still resonates, but her delivery is now from a different perspective–she’s seen it all, for far too long and she knows that we all know it.

Ani DiFranco has always done things her way, and for this Tiny Desk (home) concert, she’s a one-woman team, filming and recording herself in the front hall of her New Orleans home and studio, Big Blue. The not-so-tiny desk you see in the hallway was her great grandfather’s. Other personal items seen as we scan her home include a purple painting of a tree by her cousin Jim Mott and a portrait of a woman and ghostly girl by a painter named Renata. At the time of this recording, Ani was planning to move after more than 10 years at Big Blue, so this concert is likely one of the last performances to take place in that space.

She does play a new song, though.

 Her final song for this (home) concert is from her 22nd album and her latest release, Revolutionary Love. The song brings compassion to troubled times by dismissing hatred — or in her words, “To forgive but not forget.” It’s a message that shows the beauty and power of this artist, and her heart.

“Revolutionary Love” brings in guitar number 3, an acoustic guitar with a different sound than the first one.   The song has a great melody and sounds very different from the recorded version.  I much prefer this acoustic version than the produced version that has horns and keys.  I really love the way she plays–using her thumb and fingers in a very distinctive playing style.  Her voice sounds fantastic throughout–with clarity and power

[READ: June 1, 2021] “Commando”

The June 11 issue of the new Yorker had several essays under the heading “Summer Movies.”   Each one is a short piece in which the author (many of whom I probably didn’t know in 2007 but do know now) reflects on, well, summer movies.

Interestingly, this essay is not actually about the movie Commando, but about movies like it.  It’s about when he and his friends would imitate the movies and play “commando” in the woods–they were no doubt validated when Commando was released.

They had the perfect location.

Because, yes the woods behind our house do look like a Central American jungle.  And of course it was the perfect place to reenact scenes from First Blood or Raiders of the Lost Ark–of hunting and being hunted.

Within hours of leaving the theatre, we would put on our fatigues (we called them camos) throw our weapons and accessories in our backpacks, get on our bikes, and ride down to the ravines by the beach.

[I can recall doing just what he says (although not in such a dangerous way)–replicating what we saw in the movies]. (more…)

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I’ve wanted to listen to more from The Roots ever since I was exposed to them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  But as typically happens, I’m listening to other things instead.  So this seemed like a good opportunity to check them out (based on Samantha Irby’s rave below).

One of the best things about this recording (and The Roots in general) is Questlove’s drumming.  In addition to his being a terrific drummer, his drums sound amazing in this live setting.

Erykah Badu sings on the album but Jill Scott (Jilly from Philly) who wrote the part, sings here.

It starts out quietly with just a twinkling keyboard and Scott’s rough but pretty voice.  Then comes the main rapping verses from Black Thought.  I love the way Scott sings backing vocals on the verses and Black Thought adds backing vocals to the chorus.

Midway through the song, it shifts gears and gets a little more funky.  Around five minutes, the band does some serious jamming.  Jill Scott does some vocal bits, the turntablist goes a little wild with the scratching and Questlove is on fire.

Then things slow down for Scott to show off her amazing voice in a quiet solo-ish section.  This song shows off how great both The Roots and Jill Scott are.  Time to dig deeper.

[READ: November 1, 2020] Wow, no thank you.

This book kept popping up on various recommended lists.  The bunny on the cover was pretty adorable, so I thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of Samantha Irby before this, but the title and the blurbs made this sound really funny.

And some of it is really funny. Irby is self-deprecating and seems to be full of self-loathing, but she puts a humorous spin on it all.  She also has Crohn’s disease and terribly irritable bowels–there’s lots of talk about poo in this book.

Irby had a pretty miserable upbringing.  Many of the essays detail this upbringing.  She also has low self-esteem and many of the essays detail that.  She also doesn’t take care of herself at all and she writes about that.  She also doesn’t really want much to do with children or dogs.  And yet somehow she is married to a woman with children.

From what some of these essays say, it sounds like she is married to this woman yet somehow lives an entirely separate life from the rest of the house.  It’s all rather puzzling, although I suppose if you are already a fan, you may know many of the details already. (more…)

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Each chapter in this book is headed by a quote from a different song. I chose this Tegan and Sara song because it sounds so remarkably different from their current stuff (things do change in 20 years, how about that).

This song sounds a lot like it was made by Ani Difranco (early in her career).  It opens with a shuffling acoustic guitar.  A chunky melody with scratching between chords.  Then an interesting and off-kilter drum beat kicks in.

The singer (I never know which one is singing) has a kind of snarling power to her voice

Freedom’s rough
So we take our stand and fight for tomorrow
Finally we got something something we can
Bring down the house with

The second verse gets much bigger with a fat bass

The middle section has a super catchy repeating of “no no no” in a kind of scatting style and then soaring vocals.

The song quietens down again for the verses until the bass comes back for the raucous ending.

The quote that the book uses is

Freedom and blood
I make my mark and fight for tomorrow

Sounds like Elizabeth Warren to me.

[READ: November 4, 2020] Elizabeth Warren

This is one of four books in the Queens of Resistance series.  The series celebrates a different woman fighting oppression and making waves in the United States government.  [The other books are about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters].

The books are written by Brenda Jones who was communications director for Rep. John Lewis, and Krishan Trotman, an editor at Hachette who specializes in multicultural voices and social justice.

This series is aimed at younger readers, young women mostly, and is meant to be an inspirational account of women who are fighting for justice throughout their lives and especially during the present administration.

This book acts as a biography as well as an up to the minute account (as of May 2020) of what this powerful women is doing.

I wanted Elizabeth Warren to be President.  She was my first choice (with Kamala Harris being a very close second).  So this book was like candy to me.  I knew a lot about Warren, but I really didn’t know much about her backstory.  This book fills all that in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANI DIFRANCO-Tiny Desk Concert #669 (November 8, 2017).

Back in the day, I really liked Ani DiFranco.  I saw here live a few times.  I loved her whole indie thing (all her music on her own label) and her politics.  Plus her songs were interesting and catchy.  And then, some time around 2000 I lost interest in her music.

I didn’t really like the new jazzy/funky/extended sound that she was playing with.

This Concert has two newish songs and one old song (it’s great to hear the old song again).

For her Tiny Desk debut, DiFranco brought a hell of a backing band, with drummer Terence Higgins and singer/violinist Jenny Scheinman joined by none other than Ivan Neville on keyboards.

I felt that her song writing style didn’t really lend itself to jazzy funky style. And I still feel that way.  The blurb notes that the band lends a slithery underpinning of funk to three songs that stretch across much of DiFranco’s career.  And Opening with “Dithering,” from 2014’s Allergic To Water, that is true.  But one of the things I loved about her music was her excellent guitar playing.  And on “Dithering,” all of the action of the song comes from the funky keys (and it’s a great groovy funky song), but I find that he singing style doesn’t quite work with the music.  Her voice still sounds terrific, though and Scheinman’s backing vocals are terrific.

Even if I still don’t love her new songs, I’m glad she’s still doing her own thing:

But she’s also kept her core values intact, from her outspoken commitment to progressive social causes to her strenuously maintained independence from the machinery of the music industry.   DiFranco introduces “Play God” (from this year’s Binary) with a monologue about reproductive rights and gender relations.

And it’s fantastic–pointed and thoughtful with just enough edge.  Musically, the song brings back some of her fingerpicking style and I do like Neville’s funky keys.  In fact the funkiness of this song feels natural.  And lyrically it’s great too.

She and her band close with 1998’s “Swan Dive,” which she calls “an early attempt at a happy song.”  I get a kick out of how she gets another guitar change and says “I never play a guitar twice.”  This song showcase what I loved (and love) about her songs–a complex and interesting guitar/rhythmic/percussive pattern that she does by herself.  The additional musicians add more fill, which sounds nice–the gentle keys and the slow violin (which also makes some great noisy sounds) as well as the way the drums kick in for the chorus.  It all works great.

It’s been about fifteen years since I really listened to her and I’m glad she’s still rocking to her own beat.

[READ: May 1, 2017] Pretty Deadly 1

I love Kelly DeConnick’s work with the Marvel Universe.  So I was pretty excited to read this story which is her own creation.

When I went to log this book on Goodreads, it said that this book marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher.  And I found that uncanny because as I was reading it I thought that the style of elliptical writing and even the placement of the text boxes in relation to the pictures was very much like Sandman. But the brutality of the art and the setting reminded me of Preacher. Clearly I was onto something.

I loved Sandman. I liked Preacher (never actually finished it, though), and I fear that this book is more Preacher than Sandman for me.

It begins very confusingly with a butterfly talking to a dead rabbit.  They are telling each other stories and they tell the story of when they met (which appears to be when the rabbit was shot and killed). (more…)

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songbookSOUNDTRACK: songs from Songbook (2002).

songbook2Songbook came with an 11 song CD.  I’m curious, given the way he speaks so lovingly of the songs in the book how come more bands/labels didn’t want to be included on it.  The proceeds went to charity and it would just be more exposure for the artists.  There were a lot of songs I didn’t know and would love to have heard (or would love to hear while I was reading).  And frankly I see no downside to throwing a track on a compilation which is a collection of someone’s favorite songs.  Of course, things were very different in the music world in 2002.  Now, someone will just make a playlist on their iPod of theses songs, and post them to Spotify.

PAUL WESTERBERG-“Born for Me.” I’m much more of a fan of Westerberg with the Replacements, as he got a little too polished as a solo guy.  But this song has a fun, shambolic quality to it (it doesn’t even sound like Westerberg singing).  It wouldn’t be a favorite song of mine, but it is a nice one.

TEENAGE FANCLUB “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From” and “Ain’t That Enough.”  I really like Teenage Fanclub a lot.  They are one of my favorite jangly pop bands.  So these two songs rank pretty high for me.  Although I admit to liking their slightly more rocking songs a bit more, “Your Love” is a very pretty ballad and “Ain’t That Enough” is just gorgeous.

THE BIBLE- “Glorybound” Hornby says he knew these guys.  It’s an okay song, a little too slick for me and very of its time.

AIMEE MANN-“I’ve Had It”  I like Aimee Mann very much.  I can’t say that I paid a ton of attention to the lyrics of this song (I didn’t know it was about touring) but I’ve always liked it—the understated yet beautiful melody and chorus are very nice.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-“One Man Guy” I like Rufus a lot.  I don’t own any of his music, but I really like everything I hear from him.  His delivery is so louche, it makes me smile every time.  This song is actually one his father wrote and sang many years ago (very differently).

ROD STEWART-“Mama You Been on My Mind” Hornby’s essay on Rod Stewart is hilarious.  And his defense of early Stewart is wholly believable.  I, of course, know Rod from his later, laughable stuff, so I never considered his early work  But this track is pretty good.

BADLY DRAWN BOY-“A Minor Incident” Sarah and I love Badly Drawn Boy, and this soundtrack in particular.  Hornby’s discussion of how he Damon got to do the soundtrack is very interesting.

BEN FOLDS FIVE-“Smoke” I’ve liked Ben for years now (going to see him in two weeks).  This song has always been a favorite both for the lyrics, which are great and because that weird harp-type sound is him playing the strings of his grand piano with a pick.

MARK MULCAHY-“Hey Self Defeater” I don’t know Mulcahy at all.  This song has a beautiful wavery guitar and gentle vocals (it’s funny to read about Hornby rocking out when most of this disc is quite mellow).

ANI DIFRANCO-“You Had Time” I was a huge Ani DiFranco fan back in the day, but this song is unknown to me, or should I say unfamiliar to me.  It’s on one of her very early albums.  Perhaps it’s more that I must have ignored the piano opening, which Hornby pays close attention to and really explains it in a useful way, showing how it is more about a beautiful melody being born from chaos.  And now I respect the song a lot more.

[READ: 2002 and July 1, 2013] Songbook

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written this very book in my head….  A list of favorite songs and why they are so important to me?  How cool is that.  I have no idea how come Hornby got to write it (I know, High Fidelity), but still, what a nice cozy assignment.  And to have this book illustrated by Marcel Dzama is even cooler.

This book came out in 2002 after About a Boy (and in the year that About a Boy was being turned into a film).  Hornby had recently hooked up with the McSweeney’s gang and began writing for The Believer in 2003.

I had no idea that the book was released in the UK under a different name (31 Songs) or that they also released an accompanying CD (A Selection of Music from 31 Songs) with 18 songs on it (see my comment above about CDs).  Although we got fewer songs on the disc in the US, at least ours came with the book. (more…)

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I used to really like Ani DiFranco.  Back in the 90s, she was a personal hero of independent spirit–self releasing records, gaining a huge fan base (while living in Buffalo(?)), speaking her mind, and basically not kowtowing to the man.  And all along she was making great music–folky yes, but also alternativey, with rebellious, fighting lyrics.

Then at the dawn of 2000, I lost interest in her.  I didn’t enjoy the kind of music she was making anymore.  She seemed to be writing much longer compositions (not a good sign for a girl from the punk side of the tracks.  And her arrangements were growing bigger and bigger.  The occasional funk jam was fine, but once she started really letting her experimental side go, her songs were buried by smooth sounds.  And they were hard to listen to.  Especially since as she started embracing more interesting sonic sounds and textures, she seems to relax her grip on melody.  Her early songs were easy to sing along to but by 2005, mmm, not so much.

The funny thing to think about is that once you stop listening to an artist, you kind of think they must stop making music.  But that’s not the case, most of the time.  So imagine my surprise to see that since the last Ani album I listened to, she has released eight new ones!  This track comes from her most recent album, Which Side Are You On?  I can’t speak to the content of the rest of the album, but this song is a pretty ballad.

It’s a romantic song, even if her metaphors aren’t so pretty and romantic after all (hence the title).  But for some reason this song just doesn’t grab me.  It has all of the elements of Ani DiFranco songs of old, but it doesn’t make me want to sing along.

But the most surprising thing for me is just how different she looks in that picture (from NPR).  It’s not that she looks older or has grown her hair out, she looks completely different.  I don’t see anything of her old self in this photo.  That’s bizarre!

[READ: May 11, 2012] “Nero”

Warning (but not spoiler), there’s a dog death in this story.

This story shows us a world that (I assume) doesn’t exist much anymore.  It’s full of Midwesterners (of German descent) from many years ago when certain things were done a certain way and roles were very strictly defined.

The narrator is a woman and the story is set during her childhood.  She was sent to go live with her grandparents while her mother was having a new baby.  They figured she’d be there a couple weeks so her mother could adjust.  Her grandparents run a butcher shop and market; they live upstairs.  As the story opens, the narrator tells us about Nero, the attack dog who lives in the backyard, but “works” in the store at night.

She also explains How It Is in the house.  Nero is an employee.  He is not treated with kindness.  He is fed scraps and lives outside.  The other dogs who live inside are there to keep the humans feet warm.  The other animals outside are meat, except for the chickens, which provide eggs and then become meat.  That is How It Is.

The story settles on the narrator’s attempts to bond (somewhat) with Nero.  She begins feeding him gingersnaps and saying the word aloud.  And Nero starts to respond to the word.  But Nero is pretty much feral.  And Nero’s man enjoyment in life stems from leaping the (now) seven-foot fence and running down the street to get to the Cocker Spaniel. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Best of Sessions at West 54th, Volume 1 (DVD) (1997).

Back in the 1990s, PBS ran one of their TV series devoted to contemporary music, Sessions at West 54th.  It was primarily, but not exclusively adult alternative music, with a mixture of jazz and country thrown in as well.  I never watched the show when it was on, but I was intrigued by this DVD because it has a number of artists that I liked quite a bit then. I haven’t watched it in ages, and when I watched it recently I was interested to see that I liked some other artists better than the ones I bought the disc for in the first place.

There was a recent radio show on All Songs Considered called Splitsville: Breaking Up with Your Favorite Band.   This is something that I think about from time to time–bands that I loved and no longer do.  Or bands that I loved and then stopped and maybe now love again.  This show dealt with that very issue.  Most amusingly, Robin Hilton, one of the cohosts had this wonderful quote that applies to me (and this DVD) almost directly.

It’s Not You, It’s Me (Bands We Grew Apart From): “I (dug) out my old CD books and dusted them off. And this recurring theme that came back at me, just haunting, I realized it was the whole Lilith Fair crowd. It was so painful. I had Shawn Colvin, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Indigo Girls, Paula Cole, Beth Orton. I just listened to that music non-stop. And now, maybe I’m not the sensitive, new-age guy that I used to be.” — Robin Hilton

So, what happened, Robin? The same thing happened to me.  I still love the concept of Lilith, but I really just don’t care about the music anymore.  And much of this DVD caters to the Lilith crowd. But it doesn’t start that way.  It opens with

WYNTON MARSALIS-“Back to Basics” A fantastic jazz number.  Wynton plays some wonderful stuff (I particularly like the “laughing” horns).  It’s a really rousing opener.

SUZANNE VEGA-“Caramel”  Vega is not a Lilith Fair person to me because I learned of her long before then.  This is not my favorite song of hers

RICHARD THOMPSON-“I Feel So Good” It’s funny to me that when I bought this I didn’t know who Richard Thompson was.  It’s always great to hear him rock out like this.

SHAWN COLVIN-“Diamond in the Rough” I like Shawn Colvin, although not as much as most of the other Lilith Fairers.  This is one of her songs that I don’t know very well

ANI DIFRANCO-“32 Flavors” I loved Ani and her self publishing empire.  And her songs were good too.  I saw her in concert once or twice and she totally rocked the house.  Then sometime in the early 2000s she went in a new direction and I completely lost touch with her and pretty much stopped listening to her.  It was nice to hear this song again, although it’s a bit slower than the way I know it.

NIL LARA-“How Was I To Know”  I didn’t know who he was then, I’m still not sure who he is or if he’s still around.  This is a pretty serviceable folk rock song

RICKIE LEE JONES-“Road Kill” I did not care for this song at all.

DANIEL LANOIS-“Orange Kay” this was a wild guitar solo and effects song.  It was really quite different from anything else here.

EMMYLOU HARRIS-“Wrecking Ball” This song had cool harmonies although I’m not a fan of Emmylou in general.

BEN FOLDS FIVE-“Smoke” I love Ben Folds, and this song is wonderful (seeing him play the “strings” of the piano is very cool.  And my god he’s so YOUNG!

KEB’ MO-“Just Like You”  I like Keb’ Mo’ quite a bit and this is a good song by him.

SINÉAD O’CONNOR-“The Last Day of Our Acquaintance”  Sinéad was another of those ladies who I loved before Lilith.  I fact The Lion and The Cobra was one of my favorite albums.  Then she got super political (and put out more amazing music) and then she got really weird.  And I stopped listening.  She’s an odd duck in this show as well (this was in her speaking only in falsetto phase, which is pretty odd.  And she has a little grunted /spoken bit in the middle of the song which is pretty odd too).  But for all of that, man is this song awesome. I haven’t listened to it in a long time, and holy cow I forgot how impactful it is. And live, with the electric guitars and the backing vocalists, it is really amazing.  A definite highlight of the disc.

YO-YO MA “Libertango”  Yo-Yo Ma is pretty awesome.  I wouldn’t listen to a lot of his stuff (I like classical, but in small doses) but man, he rocks the cello.  This is a great piece.

PATTI SMITH “People Have the Power” Patti Smith is a legend.  An icon.  Her early music is amazing.  So why do I hate this song so much?  The sentiment is wonderful, but gah, what a dreadful song.

JANE SIBERRY-“Love is Everything” I really like Jane Siberry.  She’s a strange lady with a quirky but wonderful voice.  This is a beautiful song, but a little slow (I find it works well amidst her other songs, but it’s a bit stodgy on its own).

It’s a fun collection of mellow songs (what I think of as the old PBS/NPR audience, since now they have shows that are much louder).  And it’ always fun to see artists perform in an intimate venue.

[READ: April 12, 2011] “Shock Jock”

This is the first play that The Walrus has published.  It is not so much in Acts as it is in Ten Scenes.  Scenes 1-3 are printed in the magazine, while Scenes 4-10 are only available online.  (Sadly 1-3 are not included online).

This is the story of a political shock jock, a Canadian version of Rush Limbaugh (these were the days before Glenn Beck).  The opening scene shows him railing against everything and nothing.  He proves to be very popular with his fans but when they call him up to tell him that, he abuses them too (but they don’t seem to mind–or to notice).  It seems like a pretty straightforward parody of a radio blowhard.

But the next scene shows him at home, where he is not so much meek as completely incapable of making a decision.  His wife seems like something of a harpy, but it’s clear that she has put up with this ineffectual man for nine years and has just had it with his inability to even communicate.  These two scenes play off each other as somewhat obvious counterpoint and yet, they are strangely compelling enough to keep you reading.  And it’s worthwhile to do so. (more…)

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