While the cynic looks at a “greatest hits” record as an acknowledgment that a career’s over, it can also be viewed as an introductory tutorial into an artist’s varied and prolific career. Nobody would ever accuse the rarified indie act Yo La Tengo, which released its own best-of record two years ago, of trying to cash in on its “hits.” A similar attitude should be adopted for Ani DiFranco, the personally expressive and socially conscious singer-songwriter who has been going her own way since 1990.
“I’ve made, oh, what the hell, about 15 to 20 records, and someone who wanted to check out my work for the first time would feel a little daunted,” DiFranco says of her double-disc retrospective, Canon, which was released earlier in September. “It just seemed like the time to do some distillation. Choosing the songs was an intuitive process, like all my processes. I took input from friends and colleagues; the main thing was getting it to flow well, so it was a cohesive record unto itself.”
Canon does indeed span the length and breadth of her career, from her self-titled 1990 debut to her last full-length LP, 2006’s Reprieve.
“My goal was to get it out to enough people so I could quit my day job,” she says.
Some DiFranco fans divide her career into phases, and it’s safe to say Canon hits every one — from her “full band” moments to the motif that many fans treasure most, when it’s just DiFranco and her acoustic guitar — the lyrics and the music complementing each other so well as to seem like a single entity, where the splintering guitar work often feels like the musical equivalent of a sharp intake of breath, a jabbing finger or a shaken fist.
DiFranco also urges with a laugh for anyone who feels that political apathy is rampant in America to “come to one of my shows!”
“There is a mass disillusionment that the Baby Boomers didn’t face,” DiFranco says. “I grew up with the knowledge that politicians were scammers and liars, and now we’re at the peak of the corporate overthrow of democracy, so you have to drag yourself up to feel empowered.”