Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ani DiFranco - "Red Letter Year" review

Widely recognized feminist singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco has just released her 20th album since 1990 titled, “Red Letter Year” on September 30. Outside the music, the red cover, picture of the moon and the album’s title confuse - until you start listening to it. Compared to her earlier material such as “Not a Pretty Girl,” Ani has mellowed out. A lot of the angsty undertones have vanished, and since have been replaced by feelings of happiness and warmth. There are still hints of her inner feminist surfacing through her words, urging change and equality, but “Red Letter Year” takes a more introspective look at Ani’s life.

On January 20, 2007, Ani and her producer, recorder and mixer, Mike Napolitano, welcomed their daughter, Petah Lucia DiFranco Napolitano, into the world. In “Present/Infant,” Ani sings, “I fear my life will be over/And I will have never lived it unfettered/Always glaring into mirrors/Mad I don’t look better/But now here’s this tiny baby/And they say she looks just like me/And she is smiling at me.” Her modernized folky and bluesy vocals combined with her upbeat guitars, pedal steel guitar and vibraphone cause the listener to transcend into a bright, sunny day as she reassuringly sings, “I’ve got myself a new mantra/It says: ‘don’t forget to have a good time’/Don’t let the sellers of stuff/Power enough/To rob you of your grace/Love is all over the place/There’s nothing wrong with your face.”

Two other love songs that stick with a sappy resonance to the listener’s heart are “Smiling Underneath” and “Way Tight.” In “Smiling Underneath,” she makes it known that the superficialities of life do not bother her as long as she is with “you.” My favorite track is “Way Tight.” Its overall tone is bluesy and comparable to Norah Jones‘ soft, harmonious verses. It hides itself in the sound, but the song has an underlying pop theme to it, something I’m a sucker to. Her steam of consciousness lyrics give that romantic wonderland of hers away when she sings, “You are ever true/Ever new in love/And I mean that in the best and worst way/And I don’t really know what I was so mad about/But the full moon is about a week away.”

Rivaling her upbeat love songs that give off a wisp of dependence, Ani sings of her traditional independence, addressing what she will and will not do. Behind her love, there is no blind foolishness and she says it bluntly. In “Alla This,” Ani declares, “I won’t rent you my time/I won’t sell you my brain/I won’t pray to a male god/Cuz that would be insane/And I can’t support the troops/Cuz every last one of them is being duped/And I will not rest a wink/Until the women have regrouped.”

A lot of people will hear her bit about the troops and turn their heads, but if you empathetically look at what she’s saying, it’s not a jab. She takes a conscious stand. This, I respect in a nation swarming with people who choose apathy over any solid stance. She addresses a similar frustration in “The Atom” when she says, “Yes, messing with the atom is the highest form of blasphemy/Whether you are making weapons/Or simple electricity…The glory of the atom/Begs a reverent word/The primary design of the whole universe.”

Fans of blues, pop, indie, folk, funk and punk should check out “Red Letter Year,” as it showcases these genres and themes amidst its 12 tracks. The only thing Ani may have working against her is if listeners are just too set in one type of music or if her old fans are not accepting of her growth and rebirth as a feminist and as a musician.

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