The CD loads and a classical guitar riff and smooth jazz horns seep through the speakers. “You’re taking up lots of space/Your s*** is everywhere,” a mid-alto softly growls.
These are the first lines of “Promised Land,” the first track off Ani DiFranco’s 13 album “Evolve,” and it only gets better from there. With the prefabricated, bubble gum, cheese-wiz tripe sloppily smeared on popular music airwaves and MTV, it’s hard to be surprised anymore.
Armed with an acoustic guitar, a cool voice, biting sarcasm and politics, DiFranco takes any expectations of contemporary music, cuts them into interestingly shaped confetti and throws them back in the listener’s face, giggling uncontrollably during the entire process.
Her musicality and attention to production detail are nearly flawless, and “Evolve” is no exception. The album is oozing with texture. “In The Way” and “Promised Land” delightfully combine funk and jazz fusion. The use of horns, though they have only been played on four previous albums, and then only sparingly, are widely used on the album and perfectly mesh with DiFranco’s repertoire.
“Here For Now” also utilizes a horn section while throwing in a Latin riff and a drum and Bbss beat.
In “Slide” and “Evolve,” DiFranco throws in some quintessential Ani kicks, almost like she’s giving her loyal fans a bungee chord before she tosses them off a cliff. “Slide” starts off in a lull but then quickly moves into a high-energy, folk-punk tune. The feeling is reminiscent of the “To the Teeth” and “Up Up Up Up Up Up” albums but takes on a fresher dimension.
“Evolve” is an all-acoustic track, which is a throwback to her earlier folk days, but its sassy, detached riff has a completely new feel to it.
One thing that makes DiFranco such an interesting artist is her fusion of politics and music. “Pavlov hits me with more bad news/every time I answer the phone/so I play and I sing and I just let it ring,” she quips on “Serpentine” as she rocks the harmonics and knocks CEOs, the music industry and “the democrins and the republicats.”
DiFranco goes on to sing that “hip-hop is tied up in the back room/with a logo stuffed in its mouth…” Her politics are not for the faint of heart.
DiFranco’s greatest asset is that she knows her two main instruments: guitar and voice.
Her alto is smooth, jarring, emotional, sardonic and whimsical, often in the same song. Sometimes they’re all at once. Her guitar technique is flawless, and she plays rough. DiFranco literally claws at the strings with steel picks superglued to her fingernails. And she sounds like she’s enjoying every second of it.
Ani DiFranco is completely unapologetic about her music and lyrics. If a person doesn’t like her stuff, she couldn’t care less. But that person would be missing out because “Evolve” is a great record.