Music

Ani DiFranco: Canon

The self-described "little folksinger" busts out the musical yearbooks for a captivating look back that goes beyond the typical "greatest hits" compilation.


Ani DiFranco

Canon

Label: Righteous Babe Records
US Release Date: 2007-09-11
UK Release Date: 2007-09-11
Amazon
iTunes

"No hit singles. No platinum albums. No compromises." It's an appropriate tagline that accompanies the latest release from the self-described "little folksinger" who has taken some giant steps for independent music in her career. A number of other descriptives could have easily been included in that tagline for this chronological look back at DiFranco's work: words like ground-breaking, courageous and exciting all come to mind.

In the past 17 years that DiFranco has been recording and self-releasing music, there have been countless articles written about her staggering artistic integrity, the true grit with which she seems to approach everything from her live shows to her record label, and the way that her commitment to music and community has permeated throughout all areas of her career. Yes, there is a strong and large group of Righteous Babe fans that have been following this folksinger from dive bars and buying cassette tapes out of the trunk of her car, tirelessly touring college campuses and now securing headlining spots at folk festivals and selling out prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall on a regular basis. Rarely has an artist's evolution been so captivating, unexpected and significant. Naturally, the proper cataloguing of the key posts along the way that appears here on Canon is not your average greatest hits collection.

There have been many twists and turns on DiFranco's path over the years, and they're all represented here in 36 tracks over two CDs. Without the no-brainer options that hit singles typically provide for other artists putting together a career-spanning compilation, the song choices that appear on Canon are more interesting because they each represent significant points in a less conventional way and, especially, something relevant to the artist herself: DiFranco handpicked each song included on the discs. The personal touch creates a far more meaningful and appropriate collection that feels like sifting through old high school yearbooks and the stories that go along with all those pictures. There are nods in all the right places: live tracks, spoken word, performance interludes and five re-recordings of old tracks make up the collection. Very different interpretations of "Napoleon", "Shameless", "Your Next Bold Move", "Both Hands" and "Overlap" were recorded with bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Allison Miller. Of those new recordings, DiFranco told Susan Visakowitz of Billboard, "These five were songs I knew I wanted to include, but couldn't find a single good recording of. In all honesty, if I could have, I probably would have done 36 new tracks, because I second-guess everything I've done in the studio given enough time. But these five I handpicked to represent in a more fortified way."

It's not unexpected that DiFranco would have such a heavy hand in putting together this scrapbook, and in fact, her decisions about this album ultimately provide a further look at the artist who's early lyric "I build each one of my songs out of glass so you can see me inside them, I suppose" has always been an appropriate description of her artistic personality. DiFranco has made many moves since she started playing shows at 18, seamlessly shapeshifting from activist to indie music mogul, touring machine to her latest role as proud mother to a newborn daughter. Naturally, it's a more domestic point of view that DiFranco is coming from these days: the touring has slowed down and roots have been laid down with homes in New Orleans and her native Buffalo, NY.

And perhaps that's the latest curveball that DiFranco is throwing audiences on this album that clearly has a tendency towards DiFranco's later, and more sentimental work, though so much of her early albums had such a political bent and a pared-down simplicity that made those fighting words even more powerful. That move away from the highly political topics towards more emotional and personal songwriting was a much talked about mindshift, and one that DiFranco even addresses with the inclusion here of "Distracted", an onstage interlude from one of her past performances. Still, it was that practically bare, percussive guitar picking and wailing voice that wooed many of her first fans, and snapshots from that period should have been better represented in this yearbook.

DiFranco fans and newbies alike will appreciate the collection of music put together on Canon. It's an impressive look at a ground-breaking career and, like everything that she's done, Ani DiFranco doesn't take the easy way here and it pays back in spades.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image