(4 / 5)
A fabulous way of celebrating your 20th studio album release, putting out a record that it would not be unfair to describe as, “career defining”. But to try to categorise, pigeon hole and label Ani De Franco at this stage of her career – or in fact, at any stage of her career on stage and as a recording artist – would be a silly thing to do. Second guessing her next move is a fruitless task too. Nothing predictable about this artist, for sure.
With “Binary”, the iconic singer, songwriter, activist, poet, DIY trendsetter returns to territory that brought her to the world’s attention more than 25 years ago. One of the first artists to create her own label almost three decades ago, she has been recognised among the feminist pantheon for her entrepreneurship, social activism, and outspoken political lyrics. At a time of global chaos and confusion, DiFranco delivers a set of songs offering a wide range of perspective and musical scope.
Written prior to the 2016 election, the songs on “Binary” are prescient of the current political situation in America. Ani tackles the challenge and necessity of teaching non- violence with “Pacifist’s Lament” and the need for empathy in “Terrifying Sight”.
“Play God”, a rallying cry for reproductive rights, is currently playing out in congress. And on the title track, DiFranco reveals the larger meaning of the album. “This binary principle is echoed throughout our bodies“, Ani notes. “With one ear, we hear, but only with two ears can we perceive the full spectrum of depth and position. This idea that refuses now to let me go, that nothing can truly exist except in relationship with something else, is where this song and this album are coming from”.
The backbone of “Binary’s” sound is DiFranco’s long-time rhythm section of bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Terence Higgins, but on much of the album, the trio is augmented with some all-star guests. Virtuoso violinist Jenny Scheinman and keyboard wizard Ivan Neville both join in for more than half of the record. Other contributors include legendary JB Horns sax man Maceo Parker, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Gail Ann Dorsey, longtime bassist for David Bowie.
New Orleans resident DiFranco takes special pride in the Crescent City funk spearheaded by natives Higgins and Neville on a number of the tunes. Production is very fine; Tchad Blake taking the helm for the mix.
“Binary” is the debut release from a European joint venture between Aveline Records and Righteous Babe Records. The Aveline Records label was established in the UK in 2016 by the triumvirate of long time Righteous Babe European representative Ian Blackaby, Lizzie Evans of Evans Above PR and Immy Doman, co-founder of the legendary Green Note venue in London’s Camden town.
Ani was honoured with this year’s ‘Independent Icon Award’ at the American Association of Independent Music’s Libera Awards earlier this summer. She is performing in Europe this summer for the first time since 2014, including appearances at Glastonbury Festival and the London Palladium.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’