Stripped down to the core of what has always made Ani DiFranco an important figure in the post-Dylan field of folk music, the dominant element on Reprieve is DiFranco’s voice, and consequently, lyrics. There’s voice, guitar, and the bass lines of Todd Sickafoose, and aside from a few quirky, and sometimes unnecessary, synthesizer colors — that’s all there is. For many of her long-time fans, that’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for. After a few albums that were overdone with too many accessories in sound and experimentation, it’s great to see Ani get back to her roots and produce an album that reflects her always awe-inspiring live show.
Recorded in New Orleans in early 2005, the fact that this album will see the light of day is its own small miracle. Forced to evacuate her then-home city, DiFranco took cover in her native Buffalo to wait out the storm. Days after the levee broke she bravely (or recklessly) returned to flooded streets to retrieve the master recordings and head back north to add the finishing touches. As soon as the power was restored in the bayou she returned in order to put the record to bed in the Crescent City. In an eerie coincidence, one of the final lines of the strongest track on the record (the political commentary “Millennium Theater”) is “New Orleans bides her time.” Written pre-Katrina, it’s a haunting foreshadowing lyric buried within a song about the 21st century climate that sees Presidents being snuck into office, and a government that doesn’t care about the people it governs.
Reprieve is reflective of her early works, yet smoothed out with maturity and age. Still a young 35, this is the folksinger’s 16th full-length release of new material. Having toured without break for seventeen years (until this past year when tendonitis sidelined her for some long-overdue rest), her writing and vocals are both layered with experience. Her once-hopeful anger and call for revolution is replaced by the sad frustration of a modern American who has watched her country get stolen from the people, but the light of hope is still present — it’s just quieter.
“And I ain’t in the best shape/ that I’ve ever been in/ but I know where I’m going/ and it ain’t where I’ve been,” she sings in “Subconscious.” Forever evolving, Ani DiFranco is as strong a voice as ever and Reprieve is her best piece of work in years.
Righteous Babe Records: www.righteousbabe.com/