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.
3. In the Margins
6. 78% H2O
7. Millennium Theater
10. A Spade
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