Ani DiFranco’s latest album, “Red Letter Year,” has been out for a few months now and is available for all the music lovers on gudanglagu, but never grows old. Though Ani is an extremely prolific and versatile songwriter and musician, this album is one of the best demonstrations of both. It’s Ani at her best; folky and melodic songs, with powerful and poetic lyrics. As an artist, she has explored so many musical avenues, but it seems that with this album, she returns to her roots as an outspoken but honest folk-singer.
She still demonstrates her versatility, from the beat-driven “Emancipated Minor,” to the more soulful “Good Luck,” and “Star Matter,” to the politically charged “Red Letter Year,” and “Alla This.” Ani has always made a statement with her music, criticizing capitalism, religion, and corporate media, weaving lyrics and melody into songs that are empowering and make you want to get out and fight for everything that’s good and right. Many of the songs on this album have that effect. “Red Letter Year,” the first track, begins as a fun, mellow song, then moves into a remorseful rant against the flooding in New Orleans and the gross negligence of the government in preventing or dealing with the tragedy. She continues in this mood with “Alla This,” and it’s a stark portrait of our society’s obsession with consumerism and our willingness to be exploited by the corporate media.
Ani’s new experiences in motherhood also influence this album in a significant way. She explores the changes in perspective that come with this radical change, and the natural bond between mother and child. Though she has always written with a worldview somewhat different from most of society, and with a more keen awareness of what truly is significant, the birth of her daughter seems to have accentuated this awareness. The songs “Present/Infant,” and “Landing Gear,” exemplify this clearly. “Landing Gear” is a beautifully written song that expresses the intense experience of giving birth, in a poetic metaphor that is a touching tribute both to homebirth, and the anticipation and awe of bringing life into the world.
Any Ani fan knows that her live shows are her strength. Each show is different, as she interacts with the audience, and plays her music from her soul, giving each song a new feeling, no matter how many times you may have heard it played. Her spoken word pieces are powerful in general, though there are none on this album, hearing them performed live emphasizes their strength in meaning. However, short of a live performance, this album is a close second – a true example of her beauty and world-awareness, as well as her exemplary musicianship, from the opening, “Red Letter Year,”, to the fun, instrumental reprise that closes the album.