Every new album from singer/songwriter/guitarist Ani DiFranco gives listeners a reason to get excited about music all over again, and Reprieve, is certainly no exception. Across 12 tracks, DiFranco ignites more of her signature blend of poetry, politics and musicianship.
Ani and touring bassist Todd Sickafoose are the only two players on the new album - something you'd never guess from its rich and detailed sound. In addition to the usual array of acoustic and electric guitars for which she is justly noted, Ani can be heard on keyboards, drums, and other instruments, while Todd contributes not only bass but wurlitzer, pump organ, piano and "fakey-bakey" trumpet and strings (then there's the bicycle pump and other found sounds and sound effects orchestrated by Ani).
The album was tracked in her New Orleans studio in early 2005 during a break in her usually heavy touring schedule. Forced to leave the master recordings behind when she evacuated before Hurricane Katrina, she drove back into the city to retrieve them just three days after the levees broke. From there she headed back to overdub in her hometown of Buffalo with whatever instruments happened to be on hand. Chief among them a vintage omnichord and a modern "cheesy synthesizer" (which entailed "trying to use uncool sounds in cool ways," as she puts it).
The final mixing took place back in New Orleans "where, after the power came on, I had access to all kinds of distortion, basically," she says with a laugh, "and the ears of [recording engineer] Mike [Napolitano], who's a great mixer and gave me great advice."
Between the forced evacuation and the time off on the road, Ani found herself concentrating on the process of recording to a degree she had never done before, and the resulting album is the clearest demonstration yet of her talents as a producer. Unconstrained by the pressures of touring, she was able to take her time with the record, and the end result is an overall sound that is as clear and succinct as her lyrics have always been.
While not intended to be taken as a concept album in any way, the songs on Reprieve do provide a cohesive picture of what's been on Ani's mind lately during turbulent times on the personal, cultural, and global front. From the opening encounter of "Hypnotized" to the call to action against patriarchy in the spoken-word title track to the conflict between "the house of conformity" and the ability to make art in the final song, "Shroud," this is classic Ani territory. It's a place where individual songs can't be easily separated into "personal" and "political" categories, because those concerns inevitably overlap in complex and nuanced ways.
Ani describes Reprieve as rooted in the Crescent City, and it so happens that there's a single direct reference to that town in the album's centerpiece, "Millennium Theater." The line "New Orleans bides her time" in the middle of this scathing critique of the current Republican regime might sound like a response to Hurricane Katrina, but in fact the song was written well before the disaster that has devastated the city, about a crisis that took no one but the presidential administration by surprise. Like just about everything else on Reprieve, "Millennium Theater" finds Ani speaking her mind, singing from her heart, and playing music like her life—like all of our lives—depended on it.
Released: August 2006
Please Note: MP3 files will arrive as a zip file and will not work with iPhones or iPads.
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