Toting baby and new album, Ani DiFranco’s still got it

Ani DiFrancoRed Letter Year(Righteous Babe)3.5 StarsAfter two hectic years of painful waiting (longer than she has ever taken in between full studio albums), Ms. DiFranco makes a forceful return with her new album, “Red Letter Year”. The album is a deep reflection, as only Ani could tell us, about what has been happening in her life lately. Her lyrics, as always, are the real highlight on the album; with topics ranging from the usual angry political statements (“Alla This”) to her new born baby girl (“Present/Infant”) and of course, love (“Star Matter”). This album definitely has a different feel and a stranger direction than DiFranco has previously explored. Most of the songs contain slight and subtle synthesizers to give it a sort of astronomical feeling. The disc itself is a moon, the same one on the cover. The album reflects this sort of spacey feeling and has a strange tone about it. The musicians in the album have worked with DiFranco throughout her career so there is a sense of flow and familiarity as DiFranco strums along with her friends. DiFranco starts out the album with the title track, “Red Letter Year,” one of the best on the album. The moving piano melody that is intertwined throughout the song is perfectly crafted for the fun yet poignant lyrics.This song really sets the tone for the album: happy and content, yet richly layered and very dramatic. She sings “New Year’s Eve we dropped mushrooms / and danced round the house / Making music with everything that we found.” DiFranco reflects on her life, explaining various moments within the last two years while making bold political statements, “and representing the white race/ a man with a monkey for a face/ is flying over in a helicopter/whistling dixie and playing dumb/in a town that might be a gun to your throat”. DiFranco continues with “Alla This,” the other stand out track on the album. This is Ani in her true, top form. She shows she is content within her personal life but still has that angry side when it comes to the government or corporate America. Lyrically, Ani only continues to develop. She is very colloquial and contemporary in her voice, making it easy to relate to her and what she’s feeling. As her albums progress DiFranco’s voice as a lyricist only strengthens and becomes more beautiful. “Alla This” specifically, is a true anthem resurrecting her strong independent themes of anti-corporatism and feminism, “I’ll look at everything around me/And I will vow to bear in mind/That all of this was just someone’s idea/It could just as well be mine,” DiFranco sings. She continues on with a song about her newborn daughter, “Present / Infant,” who may be the main influence of Ani’s slightly different sound. Difranco has a lot of fun and still proves she’s a romantic with the lovely, “Smiling Underneath.” Other great tracks include Ani showing that she can still rock the acoustic gui?tar in tracks like “Way Tight” and “Star Matter.” Of course one cannot ignore the force of “The Atom,” a warning on global warming. The album concludes with a guest appearance of The Rebirth Brass Band in “Red Letter Year Reprise,” a supreme, full-horn version of the title track.Yes it’s a slightly different sound for Ani. Maybe after starting her own re?cord label, Righteous Babe Records, in 1990 and building it completely from the ground up while making an album a year and constantly touring and then finally having a baby, she’s slowing down just a little. After 20 studio albums in 18 years, Di?Franco has mastered the art of changing direction and keeping her fans guessing what turn she’ll take next-always leaving them wanting more. Of course, “Red Letter Year” is no exception.