Continuing his series on acoustic guitar legends Stuart Ryan investigates the sweeter side of Ani Di Franco’s instantly recognisable style.
Born in Buffalo, New York on September 23rd 1970 Ani Di Franco is the very definition of an independent musician eschewing the major label scene to release all her work on her own Righteous Babe record label, which she started at the staggeringly young age of 18. As with many musicians who pursue creative freedom instead of major label riches (or such that were!) she can be hard to classify as she has moved within the punk, hip-hop, funk and jazz idioms. However, delve into her guitar work and you will find beautiful, fingerpicked parts, many of which could stand on their own as acoustic instrumentals.
Di Franco started penning her own material at 14 and, as with many artists of her generation, her early influences were The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Although there are many elements to her music she categorises herself as a folk musician. She released her first album, Ani Di Franco, in 1990 and has delivered more than 20 studio albums and a whole range of live recordings and official bootlegs. In many ways the 1990s were the perfect time for an artist like Di Franco to emerge, as the hugely successful MTV Unplugged format brought acoustic musicians from all genres well and truly into the mainstream (although Di Franco herself did not feature on the show).
Combining her arpeggiated, fingerpicked parts with bass and drums on tracks like 32 Flavors brought her much success and attention from the major labels she continued to ignore in favour of Righteous Babe.
Altered tunings features large in her style and you will find some unusual choices from EEBABD to AADGAD. In addition, a capo is an essential part of her playing and can appear anywhere between 2nd and 5th frets and sometimes higher. For the sake of simplicity in this study I’ve elected for
difranco started penning her own material aged 14, with influences including dylan and the beatles
standard tuning (which she does use) with the capo at the 4th fret, which brightens up the part considerably and gives an extra level of richness. Di Franco’s acoustic style is highly varied and can be very challenging – listen to a track like Light Of Some Kind from the Not A Pretty Girl album and check out the complex, driving percussive guitar. Contrast this with melodic, pretty parts like those found in You Had Time or the deep strumming of Grey and you’ll find a widely varied artist who is completely in control of what she wants the instrument to do.
Ani DiFranco: an artist in full control of her life and music