on 17 July 2005
This album mesmerises me. It is certainly one of the best I've ever heard in my life. Such a fresh, exciting fusion of styles, and such superb musicianship. Ani DiFranco's roots are in strongly lyrical folk/punk, so my first listen to this album was a revelation - I wasn't expecting anything quite so musically sophisticated. It is a unique and subtle blend of avant-garde, funk, blues, African and modern jazz, scat singing, folk, hip hop and downbeat. All the compositions are stunningly inventive and engaging, and the instrumentation is so adventurous! Across 13 tracks, Ani and her band play bass, organ, wurlitzer, accordian, steel drums, tuba, trumpet, trombone, clavinet, flute, piano, saxophone, turntables, bells, triangle, banjo, all sorts of guitars and although it's not credited, African thumb piano. But despite the huge range of instruments, there's no clutter. Every piece is beautifully judged. Ani's guitar work is extraordinarily fresh and original - she makes her guitars sound like unique and exotic instruments. And then there's the singing. Ani's brilliant vocals defy description! Sometimes the strongest comparisons would have to be Patti Smith or Fiona Apple, and sometime I'm reminded of Cassandra Wilson, Diane Reeves and even Paul Simon. Standout tracks for me are Wish I May, Freakshow, Hello Birmingham, Back Back Back, Swing, The Arrivals Gate, Providence (on which Prince guests as a backing vocalist) and I Know This Bar but the entire album is consistently strong and fascinating. If you are new to Ani DiFranco but have adventurous tastes, and enjoy any kind of progressive music, especially jazz, then I urge you to buy this album. It's one of the best you'll ever hear, from a stunningly talented artist whose musical development recalls Joni Mitchell's i.e. a shift from intensely personal acoustic folk into a fusion of folk, jazz, avant-garde and world music. Can Ani ever top this album? It's very hard to imagine, but let's hope so!