Ani DiFranco,
To the Teeth
(Righteous Babe, 1999)

Let me start by saying that I'm one of the Ani fans who enjoys what she's done on the past two albums. Fans who've been with her since the beginning might not appreciate that, but I admire Ani's willingness to experiment with musical arrangements and styles. That being said, To the Teeth works to strike a happy medium between the two camps -- these songs are just as political and personal and poetic as ever, but DiFranco and crew continue to push the envelope when it comes to music.

The title track, "To the Teeth," is Ani's response to the current rash of school shootings -- she doesn't waste the opportunity to point fingers at the politicians and gun manufacturers who are, in the end, responsible for these tragedies. However, she keeps things from getting too heavy-handed by adding a little "Ani irony" at the end -- a comment about moving to Canada and dying of old age. I appreciate an artist who's committed to her own vision, but still leaves room for the audience to decide for themselves.

"Soft Shoulder" is one of the sultriest tracks I've heard yet from DiFranco, and "Freakshow" is an all-out commentary on society, delivered with DiFranco's unique vocal style and energy. "Hello Birmingham" addresses more of DiFranco's political leanings, establishing a relationship between her hometown of Buffalo and Birmingham, site of Martin Luther King's death and abortion clinic bombings.

"Swing" opens up with Maceo Parker's sax and ends with rapper Corey Parker's musings about the fusion of folk and funk -- the result is one of the catchiest tunes on the CD. The collaboration doesn't stop there, though. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince helps out on "Providence" and adds a pleasant layer to DiFranco's distinctive delivery.

On "Carry You Around" and "I Know This Bar," DiFranco becomes a one-woman band, playing electric and acoustic guitar, organ, piano, bass and drums. DiFranco's folk influences are still obvious on this album -- it's music for the people. Joined by Jason Mercer on bass, Daren Hahn on drums and Julie Wolf on keyboards, DiFranco has polished these tunes from her concerts and set them down in one form for us to enjoy. However, if you check her out in concert any time soon, you'll hear totally different versions of these songs as they continue to morph on the road and in the crowds.

To the Teeth is one folky funky happening. Ani DiFranco continues to reinvent her sound -- about as often as she colors her hair -- by building on the traditions of folk music and adding her own twist to the mix. The result is surprising and solid.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]



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