Fiery DiFranco, Hot Combos, Cool Polara

You don't need stacks of amps to be larger than life, not when you have a persona as outsized as Ani DiFranco's. That's more than clear on the first live album from the folk-rooted singer-songwriter, who has become a star on a platform of fierce independence in her career conduct and brutal emotional candor in her music.

DiFranco pumps emotions up to heroic scale, emerging as the bruised, enraged female counterpart to Springsteen's sensitive Jersey boy. But on top of that, her little combo--guitarist DiFranco, bassist Sara Lee and drummer Andy Stochansky--can kick up some pretty powerful storms. Remember, the album's title refers to amplifiers in a state of constant overload.

Clocking in at more than two hours, the two-disc set adds up to an uncompromisingly intense experience, so measure your dosage accordingly. Wave upon wave of recrimination and vilification aimed at life's predators and tyrants can become wearying. In concert, DiFranco's humor and personality can lighten that load, but the attempts to capture that spontaneity on record with segments of giggly chatter come off as stiff and cloying.

Ultimately, "Living in Clip" works as more than a career retrospective (there's only one new tune, "Gravel," and a rarity, "Hide and Seek"). The songs' transformations from the studio models into sometimes unruly but undeniably living, breathing things support DiFranco's liner-note contention that the stage is where she's most at home and most fulfilled as an artist.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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