To the Teeth: Ani DiFranco arms latest album with musical amalgam
By biconews On 1 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Ariel Hansen

Ant DiFranco’s new album To the Teeth certainly has some teeth. As TtT is her third album of 1999, you’d think the woman should have run her pen dry, but the songs here are as kick-ass as anything she’s ever written, which is saying a lot to those of you who are familiar with her body of work.

The title song opens the album with a stinging and reflective look at a post-Columbine America that doesn’t just make you think of the great reactionary folk singing tradition of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie: it also makes you want to be one of Ani’s friends when she sings,

If I hear one more time

about a fools right

to the tools of rage

I’m gonna take all my friends

and I’m gonna move to Canada

and we’re gonna die of old age.

She proves her preeminence as a modern folk singer again with “Hello Birmingham,” a quietly beautiful meditation on the political process and the violent controversy between pro-life and pro-choice activists.

But the songs on this album are not all mellifluous political statements. Some of them are remarkably well put together combinations of some unlikely ingredients: the jazz horns of Maceo Parker and Brian Wolf, the velvet-voiced rap of Corey Parker, an unexpectedly appropriate use of the banjo, and - surprise! - the background croonings of Ani admirer the Artist Formerly Known as Prince (as an unsolicited editorial comment, I think having a symbol for a name is dorky, and inconsiderate of us poor souls who don’t have an Artist Formerly Known as Prince symbol in our Wingdings font).

Some of the songs on To the Teeth are remarkably catchy. I like catchy, I’ll admit it right now. “Going Once,” for example, makes me want to chant along with Ani even though I can’t remember lyrics unless I’m reading them off the page. At least I can remember how to tap my toe most of the time. And my toe was sure tapping to the infectiously repetitious “Back Back Back” and the recognizable emoting of “Swing.”

Ani’s lyrics are reliably well-constructed and evocative, with some wonderful use of rhyme and rhythm, though occasionally I liked reading the liner notes better than hearing the words strung out over several bars of drum and electric guitar.

There are a couple of songs on this album I’m really not that fond of. “Freakshow” is loud, fast and slightly irritating, and though the chorus is o.k., I just don’t identify with the sentiment or the expression of it. “Soft Shoulder” has some really pretty music, but the lyrics just don’t seem to tell a very evocative story. And though “Providence,” the song with the Artist Formerly etc., has some great lines - “It’s a narrow margin/Just room enough for regret/in the inch and a half between/hey, how ya been?/and can I kiss you yet?” - it just goes on with the words too long.

Finally, one of my favorite songs on this album is one that I can least explain. The last song, “I Know this Bar,” is simple, barely venturing past description. But boy-oh-boy, does it evoke a time and a place and a mood, and Ani’s voice is at its most dulcetly gorgeous. I’m kinda breathless.

This is an album you can listen to over and over again and still like (and this is one of the highest criteria of praise I can give to any artist), and not something that comes along that often in the morass of the “pretty good.” And even if I don’t move to Canada with Ani, I hope she keeps that pen going and those teeth sunk deep into her creative genius.

4.5 outta 5.

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