To The Teeth

Ani DiFranco

Righteous Babe Records, 1999

http://www.righteousbabe.com

REVIEW BY: Mark Feldman

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/16/1999

On a certain rather well-known music and book selling website which shall remain nameless, the hordes of consumers are "allowed" to post their very own reviews. Usually these "reviews" are rubbish, one or two line rants about how a band doesn't sound like they did in the good old days, or what not. Checking out what the general public had to say about Ani DiFranco's new disc, I naively hoped for something more intelligent, since because DiFranco's music doesn't get stuffed down the proverbial eardrums of said general public, it takes at least a modicum of intelligence to know that her music is worth buying in the first place.

Instead, staring me back in the face was an endless stream of sighs about how rap has no business being on her record, and what happened to the good old "woman and her acoustic guitar." Come on people, what gives? The rap takes up about one seventy-fifth of the album, and if I may quote the venerable Joni Mitchell, when she was once asked what she thought about people who wanted her to make another Blue, she replied "I think those people want, and want, and want…"

So with only slight trepidation, I remained loyal to my friend Ani and bought her disc. I am on my fourth time through this disc in the five days since I bought it, and it's still a novelty. The premier acoustic rock songwriter of this decade nearly past - and I mean the premier songwriter, not just one of them - continues to challenge the boundaries of modern music, boldly going where no rock and roll minstrel - male, female, straight or gay, white or black - has gone before. She coaxes some of the wildest sounds out of her guitar ever (check out the swirling '70s vibe on "Wish I May," can you dig it?), and merges what is normally called "funk" with what is normally called "folk" to the point of it sounding natural.

To The Teethmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is not a jazz or a funk album, like what you may have read from someone who likes to pigeonhole music into such narrow categories. But it is, most definitely, an Ani DiFranco album, a natural progression from the more loose, experimental sounds of her last two discs. After telling us last year that she wasn't angry anymore, she is having more fun than ever, but is still the insightful writer she's always been.

Take the hypnotic "Arrivals Gate," a cute confession of someone who likes to go to the airport to see families embracing; "watching children run with their arms outstretched." Or the beautiful, brassy "Going Once," a carefree story of a girl running away from her past - "She was packed, she had a suitcase / full of bungles and near misses." Or "Back Back Back" in which she compares a young man's bitterness to that of "old old people / scowling away at nothing." It is her ability to find beauty and sadness in moments that most of us just shrug off, or hardly even notice, that makes DiFranco such a reward to listen to.

In fact, after all the fun, one almost forgets what a captivating song the disc-opening title track is, an anti-weapon rant that could be butchered in lesser hands, but not in hers. "We are all working together now / to make our lives mercifully brief," she sings, and eventually suggests that we "Open fire on MTV / open fire on NBC / and CBS and NBC." How did FOX and UPN get off scot free? Perhaps she's a closet Ally McBeal fan. Or perhaps not, but in any case, this is probably the most direct, politically charged song she's ever done. And the conclusion is fantastic - "If I hear one more time about a fool's right to his tools of rage / I'm gonna take all my friends and move to Canada / and we're gonna die of old age." And as a portent of the album to come, the coda calls in the horns to blow the anger away, in an arrangement slightly reminiscent of… well, of Joni Mitchell, around the time she was breaking free of the confessional love song shackles that had brought her popularity.

Okay, it is a bit of an oversimplification to compare the two so shamelessly, but one can't help but notice if not the musical style, at least the attitude of the jazzy Mitchell peeping through on this album from time to time. Informal, loose jams like "Swing" and "Freakshow," spooky ballads like "Providence" (featuring the Artist who I'm still going to call Prince) and "Cloud Blood," and intelligent soul like "Going Once" and "Back Back Back." The only letdowns are the few times she gets repetitious - "Carry You Around" just doesn't go very far in any direction, and "Freakshow" has a section where she repeats the line "You need a lot of and compliance" to the point of extreme annoyance. The fact that Alanis Morrisette's voice seems to have taken her hostage whenever the word "compliance" is sung doesn't help. But at least there aren't any 15 minute journeys into oblivion like certain DiFranco songs of the past, which shall remain nameless.

This is DiFranco's second album of 1999, and her tenth full length studio album of the '90s. And she kept her fans from being restless in the one year this decade (1997) that didn't see a release of a new DiFranco studio disc by releasing a double disc live set. And yet her concerts are still chock full of unfamiliar tunes. How many other musical artists are this prolific? In her case, the quality more than measures up to the quantity.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Mark Feldman and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Righteous Babe Records, and is used for informational purposes only.