Acoustic funk diva Ani Difranco returns with a double-live record “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter,” collected in the summers of 2000 and 2002. The coined term diva applies loosely to her Righteous Babe Record’s image, while her on stage presence demonstrates a funk-soul sister.
“So Much,” Difranco’s 1997 live album, is a follow up to the “Living in Clip” album, which features Difranco’s new found funk side in addition to her recent solo acoustic work. Also released this year by Righteous Babe Records was her own rock documentary on DVD named, “Render.”
With first and second discs entitled “Stray Cats” and “Girls Singing Night,” the Buffalo, N.Y. descendent ascends the folk and funk-soul performer as being one of the few quintessential performers of the past decade. The singer’s grassroots, and her social and political commentary are part of her exclusive recordings. But Difranco finds herself in fuller swing during a live performance with the help of a six-piece band.
The album “Stray Cat’s” is a segue between the jamming older crowd “Letter to a John” and the more recent crowd “Tamburitza Lingua,” from last year’s “Reveling” album. Difranco raps about rape and violent topics in her verses just before graceful crooning refrains, as her horn section echoes the frustrated transcendence.
The remainder of the first disc is about Difranco’s folk pondering, including the never-released gem “Welcome To,” and now her first single, “So Much.” “Welcome To” is a brilliant folk song that leaves a silent ‘wow’ among amphitheaters and audiences tuned in to the post 9/11 network television tributes.
Have a tear-blotter nearby because “Welcome To” is Difranco’s welcome wagon to her new century and the timed conclusion to the first half of her career. The song pulls together influences from as far off the beaten track as Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega and the folk-rock epiphany of Pearl Jam and R.E.M. rarities.
Difranco explains the meaning of the two discs titles “Cats” and “Girls” between songs. Walking around Raleigh, N.C. after a show the group found a cluster of stray kittens without a home, claimed Difranco. Of course, the gang took the fur balls back to the hotel and fixed them up with a good home.
Difranco and keyboardist Julie Wolff bust as label mates’ with Drums and Tuba for lacking girl sentiment on their recent tour. The two dubbed “Girls Singing Night” track at a Lupo’s show in Providence, R.I. before kicking into a duet exchange in “Rock Paper Scissors.”
“Girls Singing Night” is a mix of Difranco’s latter days set list with a few classics screwed in between. The track is less the political folk song and more of her rhyming acoustic rock and jamming jazz influences.
A song named, “32 Flavors,” is off of 1995’s morning-after remedy “Not a Pretty Girl,” which has the funk and rapping charisma that is friendly to her more recent records.
Her first fistful of mid-90’s material had only the presence of a singer, guitarists and rhythm. “So Much” translates Difranco’s theory of stepping freely between solo and synergetic improvisational stage performances with more instrumentalists and a keyboardist.
In “Self Evident” Difranco makes a rhymed discussion in American current affairs seem ritual, while her rhythm section and horns dwindle to start and stop by the singer’s voice.
This was another unreleased poem that Difranco happened to write within a few days of 9/11. She reminds us to seek our own truths and to help those affected by this tragedy, but not to bask in the media coverage of false alarms and misleading signs of terror.
The more beginner-geared albums are “Reckoning” and “You Had Time.” The first album is an example of Difranco’s vocal ability, her rasping and bending words into a wall of progressive poetry. In the second album, “You Had Time,” is full of folk melodies between Difranco and Wolf’s vocals. Sounds from the clarinet and the horns leave the audience dwelling in harmonic radiance and clinging to that special someone.
The title “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter” defines a Difranco concert experience. Other masters of the live show have proven acoustically, such as the Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Pearl Jam continuing into this new century.
Difranco’s band will be in the area later this the Fall playing at Boston’s Avalon Ballroom on Nov. 22, and two nights at New York’s Beacon Theater on Nov. 23 and 24.