DiFranco’s talent remains self evident

Kyle Goehner

The title of Ani DiFranco’s new live album, “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter” is a line from the song “Cradle and All,” on the first CD of the two-disc set. “Cradle and All” exemplifies everything the album is putting forth. With her six-piece band, DiFranco totally recreates the song — first released in 1995 with an acoustic guitar and a punk voice, it is now a musically complex mix of horns, guitars and keyboards. The songs on the album sound good, and show that DiFranco and her band have been touring almost nonstop for two years. What is lost is that unique Difranco sound. On “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter,” Her voice is part of the music, as her inflections, range and volume seem dictated by how the band interpreted the song.

What hasn’t changed about these songs is DiFranco’s writing. Powerful, delicate, feminist and fatalist, DiFranco shows the complex nature of herself with every song on the new CD. Her social criticisms are where DiFranco shows her best writing. The nine-minute spoken poem “Self Evident,” released shortly after Sept. 11 of last year, starts out as a poetic, respectful interpretation of the events of that day. At around the three-minute mark, the bass kicks in with a steady, pounding beat, and DiFranco begins to use her voice to beat on the media and government. With a harsh tone, she describes America as, “under the thumb of some blueblood, royal son / who stole the Oval Office and that phony election … and we hold these truths to be self evident: / one: george w. bush is not president / number two: america is not a true democracy / and number three: the media is not fooling me.” Criticism of the president has nearly disappeared in the year since the attacks, but not in DiFranco’s writing.

Social commentary might be where the best writing on the album is, the songs that stay with you are about her relationships with men, women and, most notably, herself.

Most interesting is her relationship with her body. In “My IQ” she quotes Woody Guthrie, a common inspiration to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, when she says “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” In some songs, notably “Letter to a John,” she uses her body as a tool: “I’m just gonna sit on your lap / for five dollars a song / I want you to pay me for my beauty.” She will use her body; she will not, however, tolerate other people using her body. In “Gratitude,” her voice pleads, in her most vulnerable voice, to a man who has taken her in and said they can be like brother and sister. While sleeping, however, he changes the rules, to which she sings, “but please don’t / please stop / this is not my obligation / what does my body have to do / with my gratitude?” Like this, her thinking on relationships is full of contradictions — she has trouble getting over men (“Reckoning”) and she has trouble getting over women (“Grey”). She has a relationship with everything she wants, with everything she spends songs yearning for (“You Had Time”) but does not want it – not currently anyway. There is only one song about fulfilled love on the album, “Ain’t That the Way,” and it is the lightest, funkiest, least serious song on either disc.