Music Review: Binary

reviewed by John Malkin
Cover image of Binary

Ani DiFranco is now in her fourth decade of producing high-energy music with lyrics that are thoughtful and strong, personal and political. Binary is DiFranco’s 20th studio album, and her move from New York to New Orleans can be heard in these 11 songs, with a wider jazz and blues influence. The album is graced by some musical talents that commingle musical styles. Maceo Parker adds saxophone, Ivan Neville lays down gripping Blues piano, and the unique versatility of Jenny Scheinman’s violin playing is eerie and wonderful. Justin Vernon, from the Grammy-winning band Bon Iver, adds vocals on “Zizzing.” 

It seems like just yesterday that DiFranco was ferociously strumming her guitar and challenging patriarchal culture in songs like “Blood in the Boardroom” (1993) and offering warnings about gun violence in “To the Teeth” (1999). The same themes remain integral to her songwriting and return on Binary with a new vigor. On “Play God” she demands that women have the right to control their own bodies, reminding us that “Government, religion / It’s all just patriarchy.”

The song “Pacifist’s Lament” brings to mind two albums she produced with the late anarchist hobo folksinger Utah Phillips. And, knowing that DiFranco is the mother of two, it’s especially powerful when she sings, “If I had a school / I would teach Gandhi and Dr. King / And Aung San Suu Kyi / I’d teach techniques of nonviolence / As part of the core.” “Alrighty” features her funny-but- serious style of challenging sexism; “Next time I watch a man give birth / I’ll try to picture the Creator as a dude with a beard / ’Cause right now I gotta say it’s seemin’ kind of weird…"

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