Onebrother | Southern New York | 06/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I came across Ani Difranco's music through covers by guitar slinging folk girls, woman who were quite good at what they did and honored their influences. Then I listened to Knuckle Down, just last year. I was like, oh, so this is Ani Difranco. An all-powerful Amazon warrior, not just some sniveling girl (to quote the girl herself, all irony intended). With needs. And, I think, that is what Educated Guess is about: needs, needs not met, needs that expose us, and, finally, make or break us.
If you're a fan of Difranco, you should appreciate this disc. It plays like a workshop, working through themes and ideas in her Ani accents, the language, the music, etc. Educated Guess shows the artist at work on some heavy emotional stuff, personal themes that are still open-ended enough to let the listener in. I think the disc and Knuckle Down are A and B sides of a whole emotional/creative gestalt. What she voices in Educated Guess is presented much more stylistcally in Knuckle Down, the more accomplished release only because she band jams and has polished the material with a bit of emotional distance.
Educated Guess is about working through, feeling your way as an artist. Origami articulates succinctly what went down in this girl's heart. A powerful, accomplished woman will surely find it difficult to be with someone. That other person has to complete you in some way, and, well, we know that story. Animal is a sweet swipe at our fatted-calf way of life. Really, you hear the Difranco politics stated clearly, quietly, beautifully. And You Each Time ends with Ani's voice looping back through like a delicate heartbeat that goes on after the music and all else dies.
If there's one thing you take from this release it's Ani's voice, looping in and out in all variety of echos and choruses. She sings to herself and questions herself and answers herself. Her voice is worked through effects in that whacked way she uses perfectly in Knuckle Down. It's all here, the creative tools and stuff that she uses in Knuckle Down, her mature masterpiece.
She is certainly working, experimenting here, pushing herself as an artist to not avert her glance. She's hard on the other in her lyrics, yeah, but hard on herself because, you know, when it just doesn't work out, what do you have then. Very internal, this stuff, dark and at times smothering. Discovering that you can be, and actually are, happy either way, after it all goes down, the love love thing, is problematic to most anyone. The effects of love and loss and life.
Taken together Educated Guess and Knuckle down show an artist in spiritual and emotional crisis and share a sort of creative catharsis. This is definitely mature work. Educated Guess the workshop, Knuckle Down the showpiece. But any Ani Difranco fan should appreciate Educated Guess. I guess it might depend on why you listen to her. She's a smart lyricist and a sly guitarist, doing very cool, jazzy runs and picks. Don't expect the world conqueror here. This is about the human Ani in defeat, emotional wounds exposed, keeping company with herself, working through in a groovy way. Accompanied by her guitar and that ever looping voice in chorus, high and low and scatting and squeaking, singing, telling stories, calling herself out as she shape shifts into something new."