On Educated Guess, Ani diFranco makes a radical change from the sound of her other recent albums. The influence of the singer’s split from her husband and long-time sound engineer is reflected in both the lyrics and the arrestingly stripped-down production. With all the instruments and vocals performed, mixed and recorded by the artist herself, Educated Guess is an undiluted musical self-portrait. At its best, diFranco’s bare-bones approach to recording captures a sense of honesty and immediacy. At its worst, it sounds starkly under-produced, like the demo for a more promising release.

The spoken-word, “The True Story of What Was,” is distractingly recorded over intermittent background noises and vocals. Without musical accompaniment, the singer loses the rhythmic cadence so characteristic of her sound. Compounding the issue, the lyrics themselves sound awkward. Lines like those in “Grand Canyon” – “To Let the truth out/ Coolest f-word ever deserves a fucking shout/ I mean why can’t all decent men and women call themselves feminists” – emphasize the singer’s politics at the expense of lyrical fluidity.

Still, the record’s gems do much to compensate for its weaker tracks. On “Bliss Like This,” diFranco’s jazzy vocals and mellow guitar echo the laid-back sound of her live shows. One of her most lyrically and melodically poignant songs to date, “Bodily,” offers a melancholy meditation on the singer’s divorce. Longtime fans of diFranco’s music will appreciate the record’s intimate tone but, for the casual listener, Educated Guess ultimately proves lyrically cumbersome and sonically bare.
[Eve Aston hates that awful dream where she shows up for class and is completely, sonically bare.]