Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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At 25, hard-touring Buffalo singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco is her own cottage industry, with eight self-produced albums on a profitable self-owned label. How many other young musicians can claim to support themselves doing what they love with no help from anyone not on their payroll? To my knowledge, zero.

But the reason to join DiFranco's rapidly expanding, mostly female cult isn't her entrepreneurship--it's her music. Put off at first by the torrents of words and emotions her fans love, I was attracted by the departures from acoustic-guitar accompaniment on 1995's Not a Pretty Girl, where I quickly got into a vocal attack whose jittery propulsion puts the usual folk strum-and-recite to shame. The new Dilate (Righteous Babe) is even funkier. I don't know how she finds time to fall for all the gender-unspecified objects of her romantic obsession. But she sure does find words for them: "I'm gonna stop on a dime and give you five cents change," "When I need to wipe my face I use the back of my hand/And I like to take up space just because I can." This monster talent is in it for life. Catch up with her while you can still brag about it.

England's Raincoats, the all-female quartet who invented the folk-punk sensibility circa 1979, broke up circa 1984, and were called back to the music wars by Kurt Cobain, who convinced his label to reissue their three studio albums, have just released a fourth, Looking in the Shadows (DGC). The half written and sung by Gina Birch, including a sly meditation on sex objects called Pretty, is both wondrous and better than ever. Ana Da Silva's half is worthy. The wondrous half wins.

My vote for best Nirvana imitation in a world chock full of them: Zion, Illinois's Local H, comprising singer-guitarist-bassist Scott Lucas and drummer Joe Daniels. Implosive power, hidden hooks, fuck-you attitude--they've got everything but the tortured genius, which I wouldn't wish on anybody. The album, their second: As Good As Dead (Island).

Playboy, Apr. 1996

Mar. 1996 May 1996