Like the sound of a music box chime winding down, Ani DiFranco’s style is occasionally off-key and awkwardly paced. For her latest effort, Educated Guess, DiFranco’s sound is a study in musical and emotional contrasts, which are calming yet discomfiting, loyal but pessimistic and both jovial and gloomy.
Seemingly playing a tug-of-war with the ear, DiFranco delicately picks at her guitar, occasionally hitting notes out of key. She’s creating a compelling sound by getting attention instead of driving it away.
While most of her past endeavors focused on topical issues such as abortion and rape, Educated Guess takes an even deeper dive into the political world with tracks such as “Animal” and “Grand Canyon.”
DiFranco knows that the history of women in America surpasses the accomplishments of just Betsy Ross and Martha Washington.
“Grand Canyon,” a spoken word track has DiFranco saying, “I love my country, by which I mean I am indebted joyfully to all the people throughout its history who have fought the government to make right.”
Keeping with the Rosie-the-riveter label icon of her own Righteous Babe Records, she questions why “the coolest F-word ever” (feminism) is not claimed by every man and woman in our country.
At the end of “Grand Canyon” (and artfully gracing her CD booklet) she optimistically states, “Look around. We have this.” But when it comes to being an American, DiFranco wobbles between patriotism and cynicism.
With “Animal,” DiFranco urges the compassionate to break away from the consumerism of the American way, describing America as an “isolated geographic that’s become infested with millionaires.”
On “Bliss Like This,” a more personal track, DiFranco charmingly describes a relationship as a carefree, loving character comes through as she sings: “I said Venice / You heard Vegas/ Now I say either way baby let’s go.”
On “Bodily” a relationship also became the topic of the song, this time with a somber mood as she sings, “I’m laughing less in general / But I learned a lot at my own funeral / And I knew you’d be the death of me.”
The Buffalo-raised, DIY entrepreneur chose to record Educated Guess on reel-to-reel equipment and limited herself to eight-track recording.
DiFranco treats her songs much like Jackson Pollock treated his paintings: just as Pollock let cigarette butts and bottle shards fall onto his canvas, DiFranco allows torrential rain and passing trains to sneak into her recordings.
By avoiding digital recording equipment and welcoming ambient background noise, DiFranco creates an album that “sounds like home,” as she told Rolling Stone.
DiFranco uses Educated Guess to widen her horizons as an artist once more. She not only plays all the instruments, but also produced the album and contributed most of the booklet art (most of which is done with a Sharpie and Wite-Out).
The record adds another level to her songwriting by commenting on broader issues, yet with the same distinguished flair in which she approaches all of her songs.
What may, on the surface, have seemed to be a foolish decision to shy away from digitized recording actually gives DiFranco fans a messy, genuine sound of their cult heroine playing all alone in her home studio.