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Little Plastic Castle

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Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle

How can the Lilith Fair organizers insert some much-needed grit into this summer’s second tour? How about recruiting one of the slew of underground distaff folkies?

Alt-folk godmother Ani DiFranco?s do-it-herself aesthetic and punky hairdos have been nothing short of uncompromising, even if her unplugged broadsides have always been conventional. Venturing into folk noir and ska-laced horns, “Little Plastic Castle” (Righteous Babe) takes several steps ahead. But she still lets her lyrics steer her melodies, resulting in songs that feel like nervous twitches, and the disc overflows with self-righteousness and repeated, clunky swipes at loser boyfriends.

DiFranco records on her own label; likewise, Mary Lou Lord started on an indie (the punky Kill Rock Stars). But judging by “Got No Shadow” (Work), her major-label debut, Lord should have sold out years ago. Her sweet vocal hush and winsome campfire folk were never very punk. Her collaborators on “Got No Shadow” know this, and their tight, tidy folk-rock grooves lend a chimey buoyancy to songs like “His Lamest Flame.” Her composure prevails, too: Whether lamenting road loneliness in “Western Union Desperate” or comparing a relationship to drifting vessels in “Two Boats,” Lord paints simple, direct portraits. This former subway busker is whisked successfully into the pop daylight.

Dead Man’s Curve,” from Cheri Knight’s “The Northeast Kingdom” (E-Squared), was written and sung by a woman, but it?ll give the Lilith crew the willies. Knight sings in the character of a woman killed in a car wreck, her spirit looking down upon the scene. Propelled by a grinding electric guitar, “Dead Man’s Curve” is an amplified mountain ballad. Knight’s keen sense of the grimmer side of life doesn’t end there. There’s a hint of stoic Blue Ridge Mountains fatalism in her voice, her hard-country music, and her tragic characters. Imagine Tom Sawyer’s Becky all grown up, still single–and not happy about it.

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