Ani DiFranco: Trust

AniDiFranco-TrustAni DiFranco
(Righteous Babe)

Trust is the second DVD release from the Righteous Babe family featuring the head babe Ani DiFranco.

This single disc DVD was shot at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. over a two-day period in May of 2004. But this isn’t your typical concert DVD. Leave it to Ms. DiFranco to color outside the lines and create a masterpiece.

Trust is more than a live DVD. This is an event – a spectacle, if you will. From the beginning with Ani rehearsing backstage, you get the feel that the focus is going to be slanted from the singer/songwriter to something different.

The camera takes you through the city of our nation’s capital, through the beautiful venue and down to the faces waiting in line for the show.

Trust showcases many splendid camera angles and filming techniques with quite a bit of focus on the crowd. The camera lens illustrates the adoring female (and a few male) fans, singing and clapping in unison, and dancing and hollering for their heroine.

The filming is spliced between clear color shots and fuzzy grainy looks that give this experience a raw edge. The camera captures close-knit shots of the fans’ hands, faces and eyes. When focused on the band, the lens lets us see Ani’s electrical-taped fingers plucking away at her instrument. Bassist Todd Sickafoose is captured playing his Victorian-like upright bass, occasionally using a bow to make sounds that resemble a haunted growl.

On a few numbers, Ani is joined by distinguished New York guitarist and sideman Tony Scherr (Bill Frisell, Sex Mob), who adds a little electricity to her acoustical songs with his low-slung Les Paul.

Though the songs are all Ani, she is certainly not working alone to make Trust one of the best music DVDs to be released in ages.

On board are Danny Clinch, renowned photographer (Rolling Stone, Spin, The New York Times Magazine) and filmmaker (Ben Harper’s Pleasure and Pain, 2003 Bonnaroo documentary 270 Miles from Graceland). With the help of cinematographers JoJo Pennebaker, Paul Greenhouse, and Elia Lyssy, Clinch takes hold of the joy of these two days from all angles, creating an image all his own.

For the fans, Ani belts out a few new numbers, including “Manhole,” “Modulation,” and “Knuckle Down,” which all come from her latest album entitled Knuckle Down.

The 20-song set list takes you through the DiFranco catalog, making stops at such seminal albums as Not So Soft, and going all the way through Educated Guess.

The older numbers seem to get the biggest response from the crowd. And when Ani puts down the guitar for her spoken word pieces, the crowd hangs on her every word like they are hanging off the edge of a cliff.

And it wouldn’t be an Ani DiFranco experience without getting a little bit political, as Congressman Dennis Kucinich speaks to the crowd before the upcoming November 2, 2004 election.

In a new twist, Ani has sign language interpreters on the side of the stage for each show. They sign to the hearing-impaired in the crowd. To watch these sign language masters is like watching the sweetest of ballet dancers. It is simply a beautiful process.

In her dreads, braids and ringlets of hair, Ani DiFranco has never sounded so good with her wire and wood.

Stories seem to fall from her lips
For nearly 15 years, Ani DiFranco fans have watched her evolve from one form to another. The singer/songwriter/guitarist has been putting out one album per year for the last 10 years. 2003’s Educated Guess gained even more critical acclaim, earning her two Grammy nominations for Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Recording Package.

To follow up the nominations and DVD release, Ani has released 12 new songs on her latest offering, Knuckle Down.

Like many albums before, Knuckle Down saw Ani braving new territory. Educated Guess had Ani playing every instrument herself, as well as doing all the production work, from recording to mastering and mixing.

This time she takes some of the load off and brings in applauded musician Joe Henry. For the first time in her storied career, Ani has brought in another person to help with producing.

While Educated Guess was a one-woman affair, Knuckle Down has the folkster collaborating with a half dozen guest artists. Her posse includes current stage partner Todd Sickafoose (on bass), former band member Julie Wolf (melodica) and occasional openers Tony Scherr (electric guitar) and Noe Venable (voice), as well as Righteous Babe recording artist Andrew Bird (violin, glockenspiel, whistling). Less familiar to fans but equally notable are the contributions of Patrick Warren (piano, samples, chamberlin), Jay Bellerose (drums and percussion), and Niki Haris (voice).

The art of the songs this group has created stands as some of Ani’s best work since 1999’s To the Teeth. The dozen tunes are touching with their well-written words and have that so-familiar DiFranco feel with her chords. Just check out the opening title track that sets the flavor for this disc. Other gems include the Tom Waits kindred, “Seeing Eye Dog,” “Callous” and the most impressive song on the disc, “Modulation,” with its true in-the-pocket groove. Like many DiFranco discs beforehand, Ani throws out the revelations with another haunting spoken word piece, “Parameters.”

Each song is a story in itself that the listener will have to sit down and pay attention to in order to fully enjoy. But if you don’t have that kind of time, the music will lend a great backdrop to a perfect evening.

Knuckle Down is a self-portrait in musical form with the storyteller dealing with life’s little tragedies of love, family and self-discovery. Ani has certainly painted another masterpiece in her ever-growing collection.

Ed Note: Ani diFranco’s “Parameters” can be heard on the new Innocent Words Compilation More Ways Than Three.