Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
It’s hard to over emphasize the substantial influence Ani DiFranco has on independent music. The singer-songwriter’s DIY aesthetic has been a major part of her approach since 1990’s debut, released like the following 19 studio albums on her own Righteous Babe label. Few including DiFranco herself would have predicted she’d be active over 25 years later, making music as edgy and inventive as that found on Binary.
It’s difficult to keep quality in check with full creative control, especially concerning DiFranco’s prolific output through the decades. She has never been shy conceptually, singing about the environment, human rights, interpersonal relationships and feminist issues with a lyric heavy agenda that defines her bold punk-folk vision. For better, or sometimes worse, Ani DiFranco has done it her way. “I feel I’ve earned my right to choose … I’m a soldier/ it’s in my blood that flows” she says on “Play God,” asserting her indie history as she lambasts against those who think they can “play God.”
Elements of restless jazz and funk — not surprising given her New Orleans home — underline Binary’s 11 selections and the addition of veteran James Brown saxist Maceo Parker along with Skerik’s tenor on the title track shows DiFranco expanding her already wide boundaries. There are traces of Joni Mitchell, who also broadened her vision into jazz, in songs such as the walking bass of “Telepathic.” But DiFranco with Mike Napolitano and Tchad Blake (recording and mixing), work an often stripped-down, syncopated rhythm atop which the singer’s typically plentiful words feel less cumbersome.
That makes moments like the raw percussion and violin driven “Spider” and the dark bass/jazz piano fueled “Sasquatch” feel urgent and pulsing, even if their concepts aren’t immediately clear. More importantly, DiFranco stretches musical muscles to stay inspired on Binary. She continues to speak her mind with the pride, ferocity and integrity that has shaped an impressively rebellious career.