I saw Ani DiFranco in concert once. I was a little girl, and my mother had taken me to a folk festival in upstate New York. All the ex-hippie parents were cheering wildly for Ani as their face-painted kids scampered happily in the grass. DiFranco ascended to the stage, grabbed the mic, and bellowed, “FUCK!”
For eighteen years, Ani DiFranco has channeled this unapologetic fierceness into folk songs wearing punk clothing, ardently championing her liberal, feminist ideology. “Canon,” a career retrospectivce, does a praiseworthy job of selecting songs from DiFranco’s substantial repertoire. The two-CD best-of divides her music into two vague categories. The first CD nicely sums up her earlier, more conventionally folk-y period, starting with the song “Fire Door” off her first CD and venturing into more exploratory territory towards the end with the spoken word track “Fuel.” The second CD continues to chart her experimentalism, from increasingly politically charged lyrics to instrumentation with drums, horns and unconventional harmonies.
“Canon” also contains its fair share of live recordings, including some tracks from her live CD “Living in Clip,” which are vibrant and full of energy. In the songs “Gravel” and “Untouchable Face” we can hear DiFranco playing to her adoring crowd, laughing, sighing and practically spitting her words out. The sounds of the audience’s adulation are also a nod to DiFranco’s extraordinarily devoted fan base and her status as something of a cult figure.
Unfortunately and inexplicably, “Canon” also includes a track called “Distracted,” a recording of some of DiFranco’s stage banter, including the following phrase: “And so now, like, now it’s so funny, like, all the, you know…”
Despite this single unpleasant detour from DiFranco’s otherwise sharp and thoughtful songwriting, both CDs are strong throughout, and perhaps even sufficiently varied to keep the listener engaged for the two-plus hours needed to listen to the whole thing. For devoted fans or those just discovering her, “Canon” is a commendable compilation of some of DiFranco’s best work.