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Ani DiFranco 

Saturday, April 21; Pageant.

Any musician interested in making a career in music the right way should be required to study the "Ani DiFranco method," for it is the path to salvation. It goes a little like this: Issue your own recordings, making them look and sound professional. Tour from coast to coast in support of these records, constantly pounding the pavement, winning over audience members one by one. It helps if you have a magnetic personality and are gentle on the eyes. Keep touring, keep making records, refine your stage show, pierce your nose, neutralize your sexuality -- imply that you swing both ways -- in order to lure all potential suitors. Once you've got them hooked and you're selling a lot of records, the big labels will come calling. When they do, don't sign with them. This is important. You've built a lot of credibility as an independent artist with integrity, and you'll toss that cred in the pooper if you make a move for the majors. From there, if you keep experimenting and expanding your scope, your fans will follow you. Critics may waver, and some may even take pokes at you, even though you've earned, and deserve, respect. That doesn't matter. It only fuels the fervor of your fans.Over the course of (yo!) 17 releases, DiFranco has consistently stretched and experimented just enough to keep her fans begging for more; she's moved from righteous folkie to beat-based demi-diva and back again, in the process becoming a totem for the disgruntled, mistreated musician. And all this integrity stuff has overshadowed her music.

On her new double album, Revelling/Reckoning, the prolific DiFranco shows two sides. On Revelling, she tackles smoky jazz and funk and brands it with her characteristic songwriting, typified by a certain ... wordiness ... that overwhelms the music. This has been her major shortfall since day one: Because she lacks the necessary restraint to allow select thoughts to sit alone in a song and let the music do more of the work, the songs buckle under the weight of too much Ani. The music suffocates beneath all those overanalyzed ideas. Reckoning is more successful; it's just her with a somber guitar and that pretty, sturdy voice singing songs of innocence and experience. But even in solitude, DiFranco crosses that line distinguishing lyric and diary entry. Maybe it's a clever way to mask the fact that she struggles with melodies (she's melodically challenged, to say the least), or maybe her cult of personality is running out of control (though probably not; she seems like a pretty humble person). Either way, respect and revelation are two different things, and although DiFranco has earned a ton of the former, she hasn't been able to capture much of the latter. Still, a world with Ani in it is preferable to one without her. And anyone able to recognize Arto Lindsay's brilliance (she issued his most recent CD, Prize, on her Righteous Babe imprint) deserves her own cult.

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