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This review originally appeared in Consumable Online the Internet's oldest continuous music reviews publication. Free e-mail subscriptions are available.

REVIEW: Ani DiFranco, Living in Clip (Righteous Babe)

- Jon Steltenpohl

Prepare yourself. _Living in Clip_ is a jaw dropping, groove driving, emotional train wreck. Ani DiFranco takes a very bold step forward, further from obscurity, with a truly vital live double CD. In a day when live albums serve mainly to fill out the contracts of washed up artists, DiFranco smacks you across the face and passionately reminds you that music was meant to be lived and experienced. On Living in Clip, DiFranco presents essential versions of her quiet folk songs, funky grooves, and inflamed rages that have already sold 750,000 copies of her 8 studio albums.

"Wait a second! Ani who?", you ask. A fair question if you've only listened to your local "alternative" radio station. DiFranco is the current reigning queen (king?) of her own punk-folk domain. As a detached girl of divorced parents, she hung out at folk clubs and let the artists crash in her room after the shows. When she eventually picked up a guitar and started writing her own songs, she already knew the dangers of the music business. By the time her self-produced tape started selling, DiFranco already had a reputation as an east coast, feminist, bisexual folk artist.

Now, on her 9th album, DiFranco's music is still raw and original, and she still runs her own label, Righteous Babe Records. About the only thing that's changed is that she's upset a few fans by actually falling in love with a man. Impossible to categorize as just "folk", DiFranco completely blends folk, punk, and funk into her own style. Like punk and folk musicians both, her original music bleeds with emotions. She has tattoos and funky hair, she puts out her own records, and she plays in front of real audiences in town after town in D.I.Y. fashion.

Living in Clip is a chronicle of DiFranco in real time. The album starts with an improv of digitized voice loops harmonized live on stage and then breaks to DiFranco commenting, "Man, this is so fuckin' weird... it's unbelievable." Exactly. DiFranco hasn't simply recorded a single concert and then overdubbed the hell out of it. Instead, Living in Clip captures DiFranco straight to 8 track in front of over 2 dozen audiences throughout North America over the course of 1995 and 1996. Most of the tracks feature her with her bandmates Andy (drums) and Sara (bass).

The opening track is "Gravel", a new song that is 100% Ani. Upront is DiFranco's trademark staccato acoustic guitar. Over the intro chords, DiFranco makes silly barnyard animal noises and giggles a bit. And then the serious lyrics. Her lover comes to see her after a fight, but he breaks down her pitiful defenses. She compromises herself, and somehow justifies riding off into the sunset with someone she both abhors and adores. Explains DiFranco, "You've been juggling two women like a stupid circus clown... telling us both we are the one. And maybe you can keep me from ever being happy, but you're not gonna stop me from having fun."

Fans already know that DiFranco's ironic self awareness and twisted independence set her apart. Whether political or personal, DiFranco rips her heart out, takes a good look for herself, and then tells you what you see as it beats before your eyes. DiFranco takes the role of a topless dancer in "Letter to a John". She sings defiantly, "I want you to pay me for my beauty. I think it's only right 'cause I have been paying for it all of my life." In the quiet "Joyful Girl" she looks in the mirror and says "Would you prefer the easy way? No, well o.k. then, don't cry."

Taking the hard way has paid off for DiFranco. By staying away from the major labels, she took a chance. But DiFranco has persevered, and it has paid off. She's even been featured by magazines like Forbes as a Gen X business woman, but those type of articles seem to ignore the fact that people buy her albums because of the power of the music.

Living in Clip is perfect proof of the spoils gained by independence from the majors. It is a fan's album in every way. There's a massive, full color photo album from the tour with on-stage shots as well many candid backstage shots. The tracks represent the best from every stage of DiFranco's career, and many, most notably "Adam and Eve", eclipse their studio versions. There are many song intros left in place along with snippets of hilarious dialogue and bits of improv jams.

The only weak point on the album are two tracks that DiFranco recorded for the opening of a hockey rink with Doc Severinsen and his orchestra. Sure, they're interesting in a surrealistic sort of way, but they don't match the energy and style of the rest of the album. Still, it's a slight indulgence for her most faithful fans to include them, and with 2 full CDs worth of music, they hardly begin to detract from this otherwise incredible collection.

Every few musical generations, an artist comes along that is so vital to a genre that the next few generations can't escape their influence. Whether it be Woody Guthrie for folk, Robert Johnson for classic rock, or James Brown for funk and rap, certain fundamental artists bridge the gap from the past to the future of music. So, allow me to make a prediction. 20 years from now, when the next generation of independent female artists are popping out of every corner, Ani DiFranco will be on their lips as the trail blazer who let them sing their souls without selling out.

(Although Living in Clip is an independent album, it is available at most record stores or directly from Righteous Babe Records at 1-800-ON-HER- OWN.)

TRACK LISTING: Disc 1 - , , Gravel, Willing to Fight, Shy, Joyful Girl, Hide and Seek, Napoleon, I'm No Heroine, Amazing Grace, Anticipate, Tiptoe, Sorry I Am, The Slant/The Diner, 32 Flavors, Out of Range; Disc 2 - Untouchable Face, Shameless, , Adam and Eve, Fire Door, Both Hands, Out of Habit, Every State Line, Not so Soft, , , In or Out, We're All Gonna Blow, Letter to a John, Overlap

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