For 18 years, the F word has been chasing Ani DiFranco everywhere. That is, feminist. Often portrayed as just another angry lesbian with unshaven armpits and, you know, a multimillion dollar business she started when she was 18, DiFranco has redefined that F word with her own series of paradigm-unsettling Fs. DiFranco is a friendly, frank feminist singing folk songs, reconciling family and feelings with candor and intimacy. For those cynics looking for reductive criticism, DiFranco isn't an easy target.
While she isn't often linked to the word fashion, DiFranco manages to find innovation and creativity in the most unexpected places. She once sported signature electric-green and magenta braids, but now, she wears her hair in its natural, henna-hued way. She's traded in her steel-toed platforms for softer shoes. And her right hand is always equipped with a full set of extra strength Nailene press-on nails reinforced by electrical tape. Those nails, she says, are the perfect tool for her fiercely syncopated approach to the acoustic guitar. Like most things in her career, the lil' folksinger does fashion her own way, and that surprises a lot of people.
DiFranco's future is startling, too. In a recent interview, Rob Ehmke asked DiFranco if her decision to compile her favorites onto a two-disc retrospective called Canon meant that her nonstop touring and recording may be coming to an end. She replied, "I'm not done! You don't get off that easy ... I feel I've only just begun." Good thing, too, as Difranco's live sets continue to evolve. For several tracks on Canon, DiFranco chose several versions over original studio recordings. Not just some smoke-machines-and-strobe-lights version of a record you already know, DiFranco's sets are hearing things already familiar forming anew. Her petite stature does not hold her back from captivating an entire audience, hushing all but those who parrot each and every line she sings. Fantastic.
Ani DiFranco plays Durham's Carolina Theatre Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.