Thank God all of us didn't march blindly to the malls as Dictator Bush directed seven years ago. Some stayed home, digging our heels into the lost ground of America for a long, bruising battle. Some, like DiFranco, gave dissent a loud, rational voice. But Red Letter Year is not necessarily a clarion call to arms. On the contrary, Ani's rebel tact turns inward, exemplifying that the greatest revolution is the life you lead inside and outside the green zone.
Proof comes early in the title song, a rhythmically textured waltz celebrating "new years eve we dropped mushrooms and danced round the house…vowed to allow each perfection we could be." It serves well as a preamble. For amid the pounding insistence of Alla This comes the emancipation proclamation: "I will maintain the truth / I knew naturally as a child… I will not sell you my brain."
Conceivably, any reader could glean that Difranco's going for the shock and awe. But no, for there is a sustained, sinuous relaxation here, making this a singular, standout recording in her restless, thorny career. At the core of this increasingly melodic ease is her rooted trust in the empathy of producer/partner Mike Napolitano and her road vetted band—stalwart bassist Todd Sickafoose, the telepathic drumming of Allison Miller and the moody calligraphy of percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon. Hear them groove seamlessly from the serpentine, pop bounce of Present/Infant to the jittery, Talking Heads heyday march of Emancipated Minor.
Sharing the broader instrumental palette affords her singing, always a beautifully tenacious thing, an even greater elasticity. This makes the phrasing of such lines as "The kind of evening that cracks open like a half shaken beer" (Way Tight) or "Stuck in traffic…with a car full of quintuplets all cutting teeth" (Smiling Underneath) enjoyably sing-able and instantly universal. Red Letter Year is what we should all be: unafraid to breach expectations.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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