By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 17, 1997; Page G11
The Washington Post
Singer, songwriter and anti-corporate tycoon Ani DiFranco has built her audience the old-fashioned way: near-constant touring interspersed with album releases. As her fans will attest, DiFranco's bracing performances probably best define her. Opening for Bob Dylan at Wolf Trap Aug. 23 and 24, she has released 10 studio albums in eight years. Now she has documented the vitality of her concerts. Once again, DiFranco's done it on her terms: "Living in Clip" is a double CD on her own record label, Righteous Babe, containing 31 tracks. Reportedly produced without any post-production tweaking, "Living in Clip" features a bright bootleg-quality sound, though its packaging (including a 36-page souvenir album) is first class. DiFranco is staunchly supported by drummer Andy Stochansky and bassist Sara Lee, who know when to lay down slipstream grooves and when to kick into overdrive, but she remains front and center in both sound and spirit. The album title comes from a sound engineer's joke about DiFranco pushing her amplifiers to the limit -- the point studio people refer to as "in clip." That image of operating close to overload is an appropriate metaphor. Fearless and un-self-conscious in her writing, singing and kinetic acoustic guitar playing, DiFranco often seems to push the envelope of frenetic performance. Yet her work has a surprisingly wide emotional and dynamic range and she's blessed with a voice that can reflect both quiet vulnerability and fiery resistance. While her lyrics can be caustic, particularly on issues of gender politics and social injustice, DiFranco also knows how to gently illuminate emotional dilemmas. In the bittersweet meditation "Sorry I Am," she concedes "I don't know what it is about you/ I just know it's not what it was." It's as concise a definition of love's end as you'll ever hear. The collection's one new song, "Gravel," also serves up recriminations over difficult relationships, but better captures the singer's independent streak: "Maybe you can keep me from ever being happy/ but you're not going to keep me from having fun!" DiFranco also explores the tangled terrain of the heart on the slow, edgy "Adam and Eve" ("I did not design the game/ I did not name the stakes/ I just happen to like apples/ and I am not afraid of snakes"). Anger over social inequities informs such songs as "Every State Line" and "Not So Soft." In "Willing to Fight," DiFranco suggests those who don't notice what's happening in the world around them "walk outside to where the neighborhood changes." And in the only public performance of the loop-driven "Hide and Seek," DiFranco recounts the terrors of a young girl long abused by men: "I would feel dirty and ashamed/ but I wouldn't let it stop my game." Such spirited resilience is also at the heart of the roiling "In and Out" and "The Slant/ The Diner," "Anticipate" and "I'm No Heroine." In the latter DiFranco sings: I just write about what I should've done I sing what I wish I could say And I hope somewhere some woman hears my music And it helps her through her day. In the past, DiFranco's audience has consisted predominantly of young women, but her work is as much humanist as feminist and one suspects she will soon have a wider circle of fans.