Here’s my tune for the day: Gravel by Ani DiFranco, specifically a live version from 3-2-1999 in Stockholm.
Ani may be an acquired taste but I got introduced to her in the late ’90s right around when Little Plastic Castles came out and was fairly obsessed for a few years. She is still putting out interesting music but not as much to my taste as what she was doing then. I have the utmost in respect for an artist like Ani that deliberately eschewed the easy path of commercial labels and forged her own way with Righteous Babe Records. That gave her a level of control over her art that is hard-won in the commercial music world today.
This recording of Gravel, a really great tune from Little Plastic Castles, is particularly notable for a very different and outrageously funky arrangement than the album or many live versions. One of the thing that makes Ani such a blast to see live is how the music is constantly evolving in respect to her band lineup, the song order, and her general taste. The 1999-2000 era featured quite a funky group and some amazing shows (several of which I was fortunate enough to see). So, this track starts almost acapella except for the addition of some piano, then kicks into super-funky overdrive about half-way through.
Probably my favorite concert experience of all time was Ani’s show at the Fox Theater in St. Louis in 1999. Maceo Parker (the legendary sax player from James Brown’s band) opened and there was a lot of interplay between the two bands both during the opening set and during Ani’s set. Maceo’s horns sat in on a good chunk of the show including Maceo himself. It was truly everything I look for in a concert performance. Great setlist, fantastic musicianship, adoring crowd, perfect seats in 20th row, etc. She did a version of Pulse on electric guitar that was rare even for a devotee of Ani live recordings like me. I vividly remember describing this show to my wife on our first date a year later.
Anyhow, this is a great version of Gravel, with the same funky feel that was so prevalent in her music at that time. Enjoy!