ANI DIFRANCO calls her new two-CD set, Revelling/Reckoning, one of the most satisfying albums so far in her career.
"When I walked into the mastering studio to put the final EQs and whatnot on the record, I never felt so pregnant, where it was like 'Get it out!' " she says, adapting a voice similar to Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
Part of DiFranco's feelings stem from the sheer volume of work that went into Revelling/Reckoning.
"It didn't spring fully formed from my brow, I'll tell you that," says DiFranco, who performs at the Opera House Tuesday night. "It was a long haul, these new records. There really is a difference between making one disc and two... Once I decided it was two records, it just kind of expanded and I ended traveling through my life working on these discs for longer than usual."
Some of DiFranco's satisfaction also comes from the musical challenges she faced in doing the two-CD set. She retains her folk roots on many tunes. But DiFranco also faced the new challenge of incorporating her new horn section of Shane Endsley and Hans Teuber into the fabric of her music.
The songs on the two discs cover lots of territory. There's stark folkish solo acoustic tunes like "Garden Of Simple," and spare full band songs like "Grey" that tastefully augment DiFranco's solo sound and funky tunes like "Ain't That The Way" and "What How When Where (Why Who)" that make good use of the horn players. There's even room for some sonic experimentation on tunes like "Tamburitza Lingua," which has almost an Oriental feel in its musical cadence.
But perhaps the biggest reason DiFranco feels so connected to Revelling/Reckoning is because of the emotional weight of her lyrics. Many songs explore thorny issues of relationships and romance, and DiFranco, who for several years has been romantically involved with her sound engineer -- whom she affectionately calls "Goat Boy" -- found herself confronting thoughts that were frequently anything but comfortable and writing from a position of vulnerability.
For instance, the song "Reckoning" suggests both the exhilaration and the fragility of being with someone special while the tune "So What" is rife with uncertainty and regret. "Sick Of Me" is particularly self-critical ("How sick of me/Must you be/By now/While you're standing just outside/Of what your pride will allow/Always reaching into yourself/To find a new way to understand me").
DiFranco didn't reveal much about any specific events, situations or experiences that might have spurred her new lyrics, but she didn't shy away from describing the intensity of the songwriting process for Revelling/Reckoning.
"I know for me making these records, for myself and Goat, there was a whole lot of incessant reckoning going on," DiFranco says. "We were working with these songs, and we really didn't have a lot of opportunity to forget for a while or postpone or relax. It was a very, very intense experience of recording these songs.
"I can't even begin to describe the strenuousness of it, just personally," she elaborated. "But also really the whole process, I think, really blew both of our minds because I don't think either of us imagined that two people, let alone the two of us, would ever communicate that much and that deeply and that openly and terrifyingly about really, right down to the essence of who we are and what we want."
Part of what made these songs so unnerving was DiFranco found herself writing from points of weakness, self-doubt and struggle. For someone whose music has often incorporated themes of self-empowerment and self-confidence, this was hard to come to terms with.
Revelling/Reckoning, however, is not a single-topic work. As an artist who has always written her share of pointed topical material (tackling topics such as women's rights, the death penalty, sexuality and patriotism, to name a few), it's no surprise that DiFranco found room to tackle a few issues within the scope of the new CDs.
One of the most pointed tunes is "Your Next Bold Move," which assails the corporate greed that began in the Reagan/Bush administrations of the 1980s.
"We just have not escaped the reign of conservative capitalist terror that continues now with our baby Bush," she says. "I think that until we extradite the corporate from the political we will not have any justice in this country. And the forces of capitalism, the corporate entities, now just seem to be completely in control of our government. That's a very terrifying [situation]."
That commentary, of course, can apply to the music industry, which has been radically reshaped over the past few years by mergers between numerous major label record companies. Today, five major labels are responsible for about 80 percent of the music that is released to the public. DiFranco is uniquely qualified to address this subject.
DiFranco started her own label, Righteous Babe Records, and released her self-titled debut album in 1990 at age 19. Now, 14 solo albums later, that little label employs more than 15 people and has total album sales approaching four million. Over the years, DiFranco has steadfastly resisted offers to sign with major labels, making her a hero for do-it-yourself musicians everywhere.
She says she finds the consolidation of the major labels extremely disturbing, and worries that it will squelch the individualism and creativity of musicians.
"You have vertical integration of power within the whole music industry, where labels are now the same corporate entities own the major labels, the major movie companies, the major promotion live performance companies, the big venues, radio stations, print media, you know, billboards," she says. "It's done so much, I think, to homogenize our culture and commercialize it and stifle the artistic musical activity."
Ani DiFranco performs at the Opera House with Sekou Sundiata on Tuesday, July 10,
at 8 pm. Tickets: $29. Call: 325-SEAT.
Metal and Magick
Along with a handful of others, GODSMACK is currently at the forefront of a renaissance in metal, helping to breathe new life into a rock sub-genre that has endured its share of lean times and diluting essences. For rock music (especially its pounding, metallic derivations) to be effective, it needs to maintain an edge. Without at least a perceived threat to good, clean white-bread American values, it quickly devolves into self-parody, kitsch and/or tedium (I don't have to name names here do I?).
After Godsmack's 1997 indie debut album began selling well on its own merits in the Northeast, the Boston-area band was picked up by Universal, which re-released the album for wider distribution. Godsmack (containing hit singles "Whatever" and "Keep Away") and a fortuitous spot on the 1999 Ozzfest tour endeared the quartet to legions of new fans. Mainstream success followed. Local fans can check them out at the Arena on Thursday.
Not surprisingly, their year 2000 sophomore effort, Awake (brimming with Alice in Chains-esque thunderous, riff-dominated sonics and brooding lyricism) follows in its successful predecessor's footsteps. Back in your face is front man, vocalist Sully Erna, guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill and drummer Tommy Stewart, collectively taking listeners on a cathartic ride through aggro worlds of pain, disappointment and, occasionally, redemption.
Despite statements to the contrary, Sully's personal affiliation with paganism (he's a practicing Wiccan) do seem to have an influence on the band's sound, direction and lyrics. In fact, the more he denies the connection, the more fans are bound to read into songs such as "Bad Religion," "Vampires" and "Bad Magick." But then, of course, the dichotomy only adds to the band's mystique.
And if rock history has shown us one thing, it's that (in the metal arena in particular) mystique can carry you a very long way.
Be sure to get to the Arena on time to catch the opening acts, in particular, the Deftones. An evening of sturdy hard rock from the gut awaits you.
Godsmack plays at the Arena with Deftones, Puddle of Mudd and CKY on Thursday,
July 12, at 6:30 pm. Tickets: $29.75.
Call: 325-SEAT. Also at the Gorge on Friday, July 13, at 8 pm. Tickets: $25.83.
Call: (509) 735-0500.
A bona fide original
What has big hair, a large band and performs country music that will make you forget what you know about country music? LYLE LOVETT, the quirky darling of alternative country, brings his large band and his compelling music to the Fox this week in a visit long awaited by fans.
One such fan, Judie Manning, has been listening to her Lyle Lovett CDs in preparation for seeing the real thing. Her tickets have been safely tucked away since May, waiting for the summer night when Lovett would finally come to town. Manning, a retired sixtysomething who loves to garden and sew, is typical of Lyle Lovett's fans in that there is no typical fan. His music has a way of drawing people from across age groups, styles and cultures.
"I think his music could touch just about anyone of any age, any nation, anything," Manning explains. "His songs talk more about the personal things that go on in our everyday lives and put a great edge on it."
Manning, like many of Lovett's fans, has been following his career for a long time. And while mainstream media has only sporadically paid attention to him, most music lovers who discover him continue to watch his career with interest.
"I started listening to him when he first started recording, about 15 years ago," says Manning. Lovett's first album, self-titled Lyle Lovett, came out in 1986, and since then Lovett has consistently turned out something new every couple years. Each recording has had its own focus, but the underlying influences have shown that Lovett is firmly and wonderfully rooted in the traditions of gospel, country and blues. In 1988, Lovett won the Grammy for Best Male Vocalist of the Year for his album Lyle Lovett and his Large Band.
After two more Grammys in 1993 and 1994, he won another Grammy in 1996, this time for Best Country Album, for The Road to Ensenada. Even with all these accolades, and all this great music, Lovett has never been fully embraced by the country music establishment. In fact, many of his fans are not country music fans. If he's categorized at all, it's more likely to be among the alternative country "no depression" set. Intentional or not, Lovett's style has placed him firmly outside the box.
His latest offering is the soundtrack for the Robert Altman film Dr. T & amp; the Women. Lovett has been involved with five of Altman's films, and an assortment of other edgy stories out of Hollywood as well, primarily as an actor. In fact, it was on the set of his first Altman film, The Player, that he met Julia Roberts, whose short marriage to Lovett was the stuff of headlines and much speculation. His roles on screen often get a double take from audiences, but his appearances are more than just a lark. Lovett has a real presence on screen.
In the1993 Altman film Short Cuts, based on the short stories of Raymond Carver, Lovett appears in a haunting story about a baker who unwittingly adds to the pain of a grieving family by crank calling them about an order that was never picked up. His striking-but-unusual looks and capacity for quiet, stoic longing lend themselves well to playing romantic supporting roles. In another Altman film, Cookie's Fortune, Lovett plays a man in love with Liv Tyler's character, and in the wickedly funny The Opposite of Sex, he plays a small town sheriff whose got it bad for Lisa Kudrow's repressed character.
Lovett is a true original. His concerts have a reputation for intimacy and energy, and certainly the setting at the newly reformed venue at the Fox will lend itself to this style. Fans like Manning are just excited to get to see in person the man who has produced this compelling music.
"Personally I like it because it's earthy, he speaks from his soul," Manning says. "I think it's the lyrics, he writes most of his own music, so it's hard to say you like the music without saying you like the person."
-- Kris Dinnison
Lyle Lovett and His Large Band play at
the Fox on Sunday, July 8, at 8 pm.
Tickets: $25-$35. Call: 325-SEAT.
Come and Get 'Em
Well, it's finally come to this, has it? Bribing people to come out and support local live original music. This Saturday, College Road Recording and Rock 94.5 will present the "FREE CD SHOW" at the Bayou Brewing Co. featuring 50Fifty, Honey Hush and Sweet Fancy Moses. The first 150 people through the door will receive a free CD with 12 unreleased songs from the featured bands.
"The whole idea actually came together more because 50Fifty had some material that they wanted to record but they weren't going to do a full CD," explains Mike Hermanson, owner of College Road Studio and member of local roots rock outfit, Sweet Fancy Moses. "So we came up with this promo idea. Then the band Honey Hush from Moses Lake came along at the same time, and I mixed their CD. They were going to release their CD, but it was going to take awhile. So I threw that on there, too."
Bringing the CD track count up to an even dozen are four unreleased live tracks by Sweet Fancy Moses.
Sure, the show is somewhat of a showcase for College Road bands, but it's also a balls-out effort to draw Spokane nightlife herds back to the live music scene -- a scene that, unfortunately, has been experiencing some significant shrinkage of late.
"I actually think that recently, the over-21 opportunities for original music have really declined. But with all-ages stuff, it seems like there's a lot more events now with shows in the park and at the Big Dipper."
In the bars, bands that play their own material are still working for the door (praying the soundman doesn't take too big of a chunk) and hoping that people actually show up.
"Obviously, we're not going to make any money on this," says Hermanson of the CD giveaway show. "This is just an attempt to lure a Spokane audience to a live show with bands that aren't on the radio every hour, or in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. And if 150 people don't show, then we'll be having the first annual College Road Recording CD Skeet Shooting competition on July 8."
50Fifty, Honey Hush and Sweet Fancy Moses play at the Bayou Brewing Co.
on Saturday, July 7, at 9 pm. Cover: $5. Call: 484-4818.