Out of Range is an exercise in musical, lyrical, and vocal subtlety by Ani DiFranco. By the time she announces in track 5 that her reference to "two tree limbs" is "a metaphor, if you know what I mean", you've already been drawn into a subliminal lyrical journey quite nicely; the songs are about real life without gloss. The music is pure delight, with sparse acoustic guitar accompaniment dominating many of the songs -- she sometimes resorts to gently plucking the notes of the same chord repeatedly, but deftly avoids becoming monotonous and dull-sounding when she does this. Her simple acoustic moments work perfectly in setting up the explosive moments of electric-guitar playing (and horn playing on one track) that pepper the CD. The lady sings slow ballads and fast rockers with a youthful-McCartney-like adeptness. She is superb.
I like every track on this CD but I wish to comment on two specific songs. With wonderful percussion and a 3-piece horn section accompaniment, "How Have You Been" explodes from the speakers. The raucous music superbly supports the raucous attitude of a lyric about a disenchanted lover. "You Had Time" is an unusual track because it has a gorgeous, two-minute-long, piano introduction that quietly alerts the listener that something important and significant is up. The extended intro seems to represent either a period of meditation and contemplation or the period of loss felt in a dying relationship. The lyric touches on the conflict one feels when one person in a relationship senses that something is missing while the other person believes that they've found bliss. By the way, in my opinion, Ani's lyrics on Out of Range are gender neutral and can be related to by heterosexual people. Don't believe anyone who tells you differently.
You may consider Ani DiFranco's voice on Out of Range to be either exquisite or quirky (depending on your personal taste in vocals) but it is, undeniably, a fascinating mixture of mature sound and childlike sound; she absolutely avoids the annoying childlike-sound of some recent female pop singers. Early in her career, Ani was categorized as a folk singer (note: the local Coconuts Music Store near my home has Ani DiFranco's CDs in its tiny "Folk" section). The "Folk" tag has stuck with her despite the fact that the lady really hits her stride with a very funky rock and jazz-rock style.
Although Ani DiFranco has oft been compared to specific female folkies and rockers, her sound on Out of Range is a synthesis of many who came before her: Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Edie Brickell, Suzane Vega, Natalie Merchant (who, like Ani, hails from western New York) and even Debbi Harry (on the fast songs), to name but a few. It seems to me that Ms. DiFranco has had an influence on the likes of Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Lisa Loeb, Tori Amos, Rachael Sage, and many others, although her relative obscurity may make that contention an implausible and impossible one in most cases.
Out of Range is an excellent album. If you like vivid melodies, subtle narrative lyrics, and Ani's voice, you should add Out of Range to your music collection.