Without the benefit of widespread commercial airplay, hit singles, or major label support, Ani DiFranco has slowly gathered an enormous fan base, through both a rigorous touring schedule and an unswerving commitment to her ideals.
Her music has been dubbed 'punk-folk', and her swooping vocal style carries echoes of female icons from Joni Mitchell to Tori Amos; she is also an original and unusually accomplished acoustic guitarist. She learned to play at age nine and was an established presence on the NY coffee house/college gig circuit by her early teens, founding her own Righteous Babe Records in 1990 based in Buffalo, releasing an eponymous debut album which she sold primarily at gigs. This was followed by Not So Soft in 1991, Imperfectly in 1992, Puddle Dive and Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) in 1993, Out Of Range in 1994 and Not A Pretty Girl in 1995.
Having sold a grand total of 200,000 self-financed albums she was courted by major labels, but said no thanks: Dilate again came out on Righteous Babe in 1996 (first to be released in the UK, on Cooking Vinyl), as did live two-CD Living In Clip the following year, coming closer to capturing the power of her stage act, including Andy Stochansky's drumming, Sara Lee's bass and DiFranco's spontaneous banter. With her pierced nose, brightly coloured hair and take-no-crap attitude, DiFranco remains her own woman and a powerful force on the alternative fringe. Little Plastic Castle was released in 1998 on Righteous Babe/Cooking Vinyl and was even more widely reviewed, but still took no prisoners.
She also wrote songs based on stories by raconteur and folksinger Utah Phillips. Born in 1935, Phillips is a Korean war vet and was a Wobbly (member of Workers of the World) for 40 years. DiFranco produced and performed her songs with Phillips on his album The Past Didn't Go Anywhere in 1996 released on Righteous Babe. He had earlier albums on Philo; bluegrass duo Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin recorded Heart Songs: The Old Time Country Songs Of Utah Phillips on Rounder. Fellow Workers followed in 1999, another album of duets with DiFranco and Phillips on her record label, telling the story of the American labor movement, recorded before a small invited audience in New Orleans.
Further uncompromising DiFranco albums have been To The Teeth and Up Up Up Up Up Up, both released in 1999, the double studio album Revelling/Reckoning two years later and a second live album, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter, in 2002.
2003 saw Evolve, a studio set. At a gig in Des Moines, Iowa the night before that state's Democratic party caucuses on January 19, 2004 she brought Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich onstage, having endorsed his campaign for the presidency -- a solo gig, showing off her guitar chops.
Educated Guess is a return to basics, in a way. Her 2004 album features Ani on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and many of the songs seemed to deal with her recent breakup with her husband and collaborator (producer, engineer, sideman) Andrew "Goatboy" Gilchrist.