Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Richard Davies "Telegraph"; Ani DiFranco "Little Plastic Castle"

By Michael Henningsen

MARCH 16, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Baby's Got Sauce
!!!!= Baby's Got Back
!!!= Baby's Got a Job
!!= Baby's Got Bi-Polar Disorder
!= Baby's Got V.D.

Richard Davies Telegraph (Flydaddy)

You simply have to buy this, the first great album of 1998. While you're at it, you can fill some gaps in your collection: Richard Davies was half of Cardinal, whose 1994 album is gorgeous, orchestrated, baroque pop. (Cardinal collaborator Eric Matthews' lush 'n' lovely solo albums are also highly recommended.) Before that, he led Australia's art-poppers The Moles--their Instinct, Untune the Sky and What's New Mary Jane? albums are best described as Pere Ubu and the Monkees recording tributes to Pet Sounds. After Cardinal, Davies released his first solo album, the quietly quirky There's Never Been a Crowd Like This, which was, bar none, the best album of 1996. You really, really, really need to buy all these albums. Go. Run, run, run. The paper will still be here when you get back.

Recorded mostly live at his rural New York home, Telegraph sounds warmer and more intimate than Davies' previous albums, which all sound the way cut glass looks--sparkly and prismatic, translucent but finally impenetrable. If I had to pick a metaphor for Telegraph, I'd say it's a snowy evening spent in front of a fire under a couch throw--but with a cup of tea and a book, not with your sweetie and a bottle of wine. It's a cozy record but not a snuggly one.

Davies' lyrics have never been conducive to snuggliness. Titles like "Confederate Cheerio Call" and "Main Street Electrical Parade" suggest that there's little in the way of Moon/June rhymes here. Not since Van Dyke Parks' Beach Boys collaborations has it mattered so little if the lyrics actually add up to anything--somehow it's enough that they just sound so freaking cool.

Musically, Telegraph strikes a middle ground--less wispy than Davies' recent work, less aggressively odd than The Moles. "Cantina" or "Evergreen" are as melodic as anything Davies has ever done but with more oomph than before, thanks in large part to co-producer Kurt Ralske's prominent rhythm sections. So there's little danger of the songs merely floating away as they constantly threaten to do on earlier albums. Look, basically, this album rules, and I'm not going to shut up until you buy it. !!!!1/2 (SM)

Ani DiFranco Little Plastic Castle (Righteous Babe)

If anyone has any business reprinting lyrics within the pages of their liner notes, it's Ani DiFranco. Not that any mortal other than the DIY poster girl herself could possibly be expected to understand fully her double-edged lyricism, but DiFranco's words are as important an element to her music as is her often frenzied, dynamic punk rock acoustic guitar style. Somehow, having those blistering lines in hand is akin to possessing a study guide to accompany a complex textbook full of lessons on keeping it real.

And over the course of 10 records (not including collaborations and retrospectives), DiFranco has systematically shown the world that "being yourself" isn't as easy as it seems. On Little Plastic Castle, she manages to splay wide her inner workings with trademark aplomb while coming off quite a bit more lighthearted than on previous releases. Several of the 12 songs--"Little Plastic Castle," "Two Little Girls," "Glass House," "Gravel" and "Independence Day"--made their debut as live tracks on last year's phenomenal double CD, Living in Clip, but here, these songs are more fully realized, thanks to the relaxed atmosphere of Austin's Congress House Studios and a stable of musicians that includes longtime drummer Andy Stochansky, bassists Sara Lee and Jason Mercer, session drummer Jerry Marotta and trumpeter-composer Jon Hassell.

Castle is not so much a departure for DiFranco as it is a stage of her evolution that, on the whole, has seen her transform from angry punk girl with an acoustic guitar and a repertoire of skinless songs to an angry punk girl with an acoustic guitar and a high level of comfort in the confidence that has made her Buffalo, N.Y.'s greatest export. Between the "spoken-word-meets-music-and-likes-it" style of "Fuel" and "Pulse" to the quiet dissonance of "Swan Dive" and the signature dynamics at work on "Glass House," DiFranco has made an expansive, fleshy record that reflects her maturity as an artist as well as the desire to continue on her path of musical righteousness. There's not a rating scale on the planet worthy of this one. (MH)

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