To the Teeth
Righteous Babe Records
One decade and 14 albums into her recording career, Ani DiFranco is still riding the wave of her tireless muse, inhabiting the folk tradition of her heroes and keeping the songwriting process irrefutably linked to the experience of living and thinking within arm's reach of a guitar.
The title track of her new album captures the blinding grief and aimless rage of reacting to the Columbine massacre and "a fool's right to his tools of rage," mirroring the futile head-against-the-wall imploring while refusing to settle for futility, calling instead to "open fire."
Her intimate perspective on social issues also finds stirring voice in "Hello Birmingham," a reaction to the murder of an abortion provider in her hometown of Buffalo, contrasting her sense of powerlessness in an election booth to the blood on the pulpit and picket line summoning a divine vengeance that culminates when "they went and stuffed God/down the barrel of a gun/and after him/they stuffed his only son."
To the Teeth is a joyous album, however, flourishing with DiFranco's hard-earned confidence as a band leader and her productive comfort in her new home recording studio. DiFranco plays her entire band like one instrument, strumming horns and keyboards, banjos and upright basses like the six strings sounding in a single chord. The album thrives on DiFranco's seamless interaction with her bandmates, especially the jazz-tinted blending with the horn section, making the listener believe she was raised by a slide trombone. "Wish I May" captures DiFranco's voice sounding like a softly percolating trumpet, and "Going Once" thrives on an intoxicating interplay with Irvin Mayfield's horn as she sings emblematic verses that tell how "she had a map/and a straight face/hellbent on reinvention."
DiFranco keeps up the staccato vocal jam with the jazzy sax of Maceo Parker on "Back Back Back" and takes the new folk-punk-funk to its apex in "Swing," which provides the grooving antidote to her lyrical question, "Are you weary as water/in a faucet left dripping/with an incessant sadness/like a sad record skipping?" Corey Parker's rap slides neatly into the mix along with some turntable scratching, reinforcing the idea that these musicians are merely fleshing out what Ani and her guitar have always been about.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Close your eyes, turn up the stereo, and get heavy like you're two feet in front of the stage. Xtra-acme usa feels like a live Jon Spencer Blues Explosion show, minus the sweat and the booze, of course. This album is hot -- the red in red, white and blue! More punk, more blues and more rock 'n' roll! If you liked 1998's Acme, you'll probably like the 19 (OK, 20, because I can't keep the hilarious secret track at the end from you) remixes and unreleased tracks even better.
This album gives what you've come to expect from a JSBE album -- it's garage-y and raw with clever lyrics (sung with funk and soul by the man himself), a driving drumbeat and a continuous guitar line that will kick your ass 'til the last song. The difference on this album comes complements of such special guests, mixers and producers as Steve Albini, Moby and Jill Cunniff (from Luscious Jackson), among others, and contributions of strings and horns to fill out and layer each song to audio-ecstasy.
As the first track, "Wait a Minute," begins, your body takes over with involuntary movement; your feet will not stop tapping, your shoulders will not stop shrugging, and your hips will not stop grooving until the album winds energetically to a close with a hysterical promotional track promising that with this album, you'll "forget your poser, crybaby hair-bands like the Goo Goo Dolls and Garbage."
Despite all the production involved in this album, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion stand unglossed and real atop a stack of dull, overdone, undertalented and for-the-money bands that have surfaced and "shined" in the past few years. This is an album that will surpass MTV, VH-1 and Billboard, reach true fans of great music and be instrumental in keeping quality and innovation in the collections of those who appreciate talent, originality and damn good rock 'n' roll.