Fearless singer, songwriter, activist, and self-made businesswoman Ani DiFranco has remained remarkably steadfast and devoted to the independent ethos that first guided her when she started out in 1990. Seemingly predisposed to go against the grain, she formed her own record label at the age of 18 not because other labels rejected her, but because even then she was aware that her brazen, politically charged, feminist anti-folk required its own system. Over the next couple of decades, she toured and recorded constantly, collaborated with a wide swath of other creative outsiders, and inspired a new generation of independents to stay motivated and stay punk. Still leading by example, 2017's Binary finds DiFranco as confident as ever, blending a myriad of musical styles from folk to jazz to experimental rock, usually delivered in her signature percussive style. Notable contributions from New Orleans staple Ivan Neville, saxophone icon Maceo Parker, and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon add additional sonic depth and texture to this varied set. Released in a year of deep social unrest and political division, DiFranco's musical missives of strength and resolve are timely and welcome, although it's some of Binary's more personal and introspective tracks that really stand out emotionally. "Pacifist's Lament," a lushly orchestrated paean to teaching nonviolence, is an early highlight, while the closing "Deferred Gratification" strikes a resounding emotional note as she looks to the next generation, singing "I vote in every election, hope someday these kids are gonna help us win." A mother of two, DiFranco's lifetime commitment to political and creative action continues to evolve into education and preservation of the future.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger