Although motherhood has settled Ani Difranco, it thankfully hasn't turned her music towards the 'safe' mainstream - Red Letter Year
sees as pointed lyrics as ever.
The change is with the music, which - whilst remaining edgy - relies far less on Difranco's own performance, but instead sees a full band playing tight, clean, and occasionally inventive arrangements of these new Difranco tunes. But whereas with the Difranco of the past it never seemed as though the band were quite there in terms of being central to the shape of the compositions, Red Letter Year
suffers no such problem, and so manages to be the most satisfying new Difranco album for quite some time.
The title of the album alludes to having a 'Red Letter' day, a memorable or important event. So, in these changing political times, it's interesting to speculate exactly what DiFranco is referring to here. Is she trying to suggest she didn't believe a black man could be president, feared it couldn't happen, or suggests that in fact it would? Either way, the song has special lyrics, and is a highlight not only of this album, but is right up there with the very best Difranco songs. The reprise version that closes the LP is a brass-band instrumental take, very happy and celebratory in a way Difranco hasn't exhibited for many years.
"Emancipated Minor" has a mellow bassline that wouldn't sound out-of-place on a soul/disco record. There's solid drumming throughout the album actually, "Alla This" has tremendous drumming, DiFranco's vocals have lost none of their touch, indeed her vocals sound better than ever. And although her trademark guitar runs are almost entirely absent, the acoustic-based "Way Tight" cuts right to the bone - it's a beautiful tune, and again the vocals have a maturity and richness that simply wasn't there before.
Red Letter Year
is that wonderful thing, a top-notch Ani Difranco album. Although she does tend to release an album every single year, it's been two or three years since she produced an album this good. I'm so pleased, her music remains very important to myself and many, many others.Rated:
by Reviewer: Adrian Denning
(blogging at Adrian's Album Reviews