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Ani DiFranco
Righteous Babe Records

Ani DiFranco has seemingly released an album every three months since 1990, branching into jazz, funk and rhythm and blues - sometimes with a full band. However, she still does what she did best 16 years ago - making the political personal in soul-baring solo folk songs. She returns to form for some of the new album, Reprieve, but meanders off course for other tracks. Overall, the album is a stronger effort than the last two, but is still not among her best.

DiFranco has rarely matched the raw intensity of her first five records, which were full of acoustic ballads and spoken-word poetry that refused to be background music. On the other hand, she has honed her production skills and her music has grown progressively more complex without sacrificing personal intensity. DiFranco played every instrument and programs every haunting background loop on about half of Reprieve, with longtime collaborator Todd Sickafoose playing a wide array of instruments on the other tracks.

The second song, "Subconscious" is a succinct distillation of her style and talent. From a personal perspective, she tackles the general fears and unease of post-Sept. 11 existence in the United States. "Plastic bottles of water/sealed windows forced air … I know where I'm going and it ain't where I've been," she sings in a soft, world-weary tone. Other songs are more obtuse and personal, including the opener "Hypnotized" and "Unrequited". The album's most attention-generating song, though perhaps not its best, is "Millennium Theater," something of a stream-of-consciousness rant about the administration, mainstream media and a personal observation that put DiFranco back in the headlines.

Having grown bored with the "look at the tiny dreadlocked girl who started a music empire," Rolling Stone and its ilk have been ignoring DiFranco for years. Five words changed that: "New Orleans bides her time." She had been working on "Reprieve" in the Crescent City when Hurricane Katrina struck, forcing her to temporarily abandon the record's master tapes. The album's most infamous line, like much of the record, was written before the storm. It is about the vulnerability and danger in New Orleans, which should have helped the powers-that-be predict the devastating impact of the hurricane. The song is full of echoes and sound loops for an almost dreamlike, pretty effect. The sound somewhat dampens the impact of direct lyrics such as "Pull them coattails out from under that little V.P. before he has a chance to get in the driver's seat."

The song would probably earn her the Dixie Chicks' treatment if enough Bush supporters were paying attention. However, if they haven't noticed the Little Folksinger yet, nothing on this album will make them take notice.

-Steve Graham

Track Listing:
1. Hypnotized
2. Subconscious
3. In the Margins
4. Nicotine
5. Decree
6. 78% H2O
7. Millennium Theater
8. Half-Assed
9. Reprieve
10. A Spade
11. Unrequited
12. Shroud
13. Reprise

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