Ani-thing you want, you got it
Fans of Ani DiFranco are never kept hungry for long. The prolific and punky folkster--who has no shortage of attitude or albums (15 in the last ten years)--comes out with her third record this year. To the Teeth is a satisfying helping of the "Righteous Babe" at her best. Poignant protest songs? Check. Gritty self-examination? Check. Groovy giggly-wiggly fun? Check. DiFranco provides her fans with everything that they would expect from her and more.
To the Teeth begins with the politically charged title track--a quietly seething attack on media, weapons and weapon manufacturers. Her shaking head and pointing finger quickly shifts into a little rock and sway with "Soft Shoulder," a somber song of lost love. In another abrupt yet effective change-up, the bouncy "Swing" may have you grooving to the bass, sax and scratchy vocals. DiFranco receives some stellar support from guest artists Maceo Parker (playing sax and flute on several tracks) and the Artist (backup crooning on "Providence"), both of whom add distinct flavors to DiFranco's funkiest album yet.
Only a few songs on To the Teeth fall short of Ani-esque brilliance. "Freakshow" begins its study of the circus with grinding guitars and grating vocals, yet concludes that the Big Top is essentially all about "love and compliance." There seems to be some sort of grand metaphor here, but DiFranco never clues us in. It's easy to skip over a song that squeals "And some of the clowns are happy/And some of the clowns are sad." Whatever you say, Ani. Many listeners may be confused and unsettled by the juxtaposition of extended clown analogies with aching accusations against pro-life violence. But if you simply cannot get enough of lyrical fickleness, then there is none higher than DiFranco.
To the Teeth does not remain silly for long. "Hello Birmingham" is a dialogue between Buffalo and Birmingham, two cities recently targeted by pro-life terrorists. DiFranco's social commentary waxes over vital and relevant points, though she often finds herself grappling with similar issues again and again: violence against women, homophobia, the right to choose, drug abuse and workers' rights. Her criticism is always painfully accurate, but rarely preachy or repetitive. Despite some of the musical near-misses she has encountered while pumping out a surging stream of albums, DiFranco remains innovative and consistent on To the Teeth. She proves that she has not lost her spicy political bite but rather provides her listeners with more to chew on than ever. A-