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Ani DiFranco and Utah Phillips

Ani DiFranco and Utah Phillips-Fellow Workers

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When singer/storyteller Utah Phillips and musician / producer Ani DiFranco decided to join forces once again for a follow-up to their groundbreaking 1996 cross-generational collaboration, The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, Utah knew only that he wanted the new album to be "about anarchy." Ani knew she wanted to try something a little different from the earlier recording, which she had assembled in a studio, adding drum loops, ambient guitar, and found sounds to tapes of Utah's monologues. Each of these two performers so at home on the stage resolved to make their next joint project working side by side, in real time.

So it was that Utah, Ani and her touring musicians (Daren Hahn, Jason Mercer, and Julie Wolf, here dubbed "The Mensabilly Band") settled into the cozy little living room of Kingsway Studio, a 19th-century mansion in New Orleans' French Quarter, for two evenings of intimate, informal concerts before an audience of about forty invited guests. (One of those onlookers, Soul Asylum lead singer Dave Pirner, was even recruited for a brief, spontaneous cameo on trumpet.) Neither a conventional live album nor a conventional studio album, Fellow Workers may mark a new way of approaching recording, but it still captures its creators doing what they do best. Utah talks and sings; Ani plays guitar, contributes background vocals, and leads the band through a free-spirited session not too far removed from the sound of her solo album, Up Up Up Up Up Up, recorded just a little while earlier in the same location. Capping off the project is an essay by Professor Howard Zinn, author of the classic text "A People's History of the United States."

The resulting collection of stories, songs, poetry, jokes, and spur-of-the-moment improvisation takes a fresh, intensely personal look at the long-hidden history of the modern American labor movement, celebrating activist-heroes like Mother Jones and Joe Hill, and providing surprising new interpretations of such classic anthems as "Bread and Roses" and "The Internationale." "These old songs, these old stories: why tell them?" Utah asks in one monologue, only to answer himself: "When I went to high school…I got the history of the people who owned the wealth of the country, but none of the history of the people that created it…and that was deliberate, wasn't it?" Fellow Workers is an equally deliberate attempt to set the record straight.

"This time Phillips is surrounded with all kinds of diverse musical atmospheres: smoldering soul jazz, foursquare folk strumming, and several quirky-loungey hybrids in between - perfect for those who need a little Tom Jones with their Mother Jones."
    - SPIN

Released: May 1999

1. joe hill instrumental
2. stupids song
3. the most dangerous woman
4. stupids pledge
5. direct action
6. pie in the sky
7. shoot or stab them
8. lawrence
9. bread and roses
10. why come?
11. unless you are free
12. i will not obey
13. the long memory
14. the silence that is me
15. joe hill
16. the saw playing musician
17. dump the bosses
18. the internationale