Song 92: Ani DiFranco, “Marrow” (2001)

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I get why a lot of people don’t like Ani DiFranco. The warbly voice, the occasionally sanctimonious tone, album covers like this. (Or the fact that she’s, y’know, a woman. Some people don’t like that sometimes.) But I think she’s really underrated as both a writer and a performer. She can write some really pointed, vivid lyrics, and her melodies can rank with the best of them.

“Marrow” is one of my favorite Ani DiFranco songs. Much of the reason is the arrangement: you don’t often hear horns paired with an acoustic guitar, and it lends this song a slight grandiosity that still fits the intimacy of the song.

Whenever I hear this song, I feel the bridge raising the hackles of the Ani DiFranco detractors. There’s the warble on the word “smorgasbord”, and, for that matter, the word “smorgasbord”. But it’s all of a piece, and when the song settles back into its chord progression, the bridge has served its purpose; it’s elevated “Marrow” so that when the verses reappear, the notes are higher, the horns are louder, and DiFranco’s determination is stronger.

The lyrics for this song are an interesting mix of abstract (“my heart’s perforated”) and direct (“I’m not listening to you anymore”, which nicely echoes the earlier “you weren’t listening”). The images in the song (an El Camino, bottles of poison, tobacco-stained fingers) paint a vivid picture of a relationship built on mistrust and momentum. The fact that DiFranco can make you understand this complex relationship over the course of five minutes is pretty impressive.

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