U. Utah Phillips was a 61-year-old traveling storyteller, songwriter, and political activist whose contributions to folk music are legendary. Ani DiFranco was a 26-year-old singer-songwriter whose recordings and live shows had earned her a devoted following among alternative rockers and hard-core folkies alike. They came together on The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, the first album by an outside artist released on DiFranco's Righteous Babe label.
The collaboration started with Utah sending Ani two decades of master tapes of his live performances. Ani was captivated by the stories Utah used to introduce his songs, so she decided to take the unexpected route and put them in the spotlight. She hand selected a wide variety of his tales and set them to surprising but beautifully fitting music. The result is a unique juxtaposition of storyteller and musician.
At the core of the project are the rhythms of Utah's twisting, intertwined narratives. Among his cast of real-life characters are hobos, hustlers, politicians, and other scoundrels whose adventures form a cross-country, cross-generational journey through the bars, supermarkets, campuses, and ghost towns of America. Tying the whole thing together are Ani's instrumental settings, layering train whistles, found soundbites, classical piano, slide guitar, and drum samples while incorporating elements of funk, country, and rap music to create a musical journey through Utah's life.