Ani Difranco Red Letter Year

Ani Difranco Red Letter Year
Ani DiFranco's last disc, 2006's Reprieve, was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but her latest is the product of a rather more personally Earth-shattering event: the birth of her daughter, Petah, in 2007. Although Red Letter Year begins with a review of the havoc wreaked upon New Orleans, DiFranco soon strays into more personal territory, dissecting her relationship in "Smiling Underneath" and "Way Tight" and ruminating on the challenges of motherhood in "Present/Infant" and "Landing Gear." These personal ponderings have a moony, drunk-on-love quality about them and are among the highlights of this thematically meandering album. The dense, sophisticated arrangements are occasionally overwhelming - some of the more complicated melodies might be more captivating against an acoustic background. But when the arrangements work, they're spectacular. The tight groove on the driving, funked-up "Emancipated Minor" is Ani at her infectious best and the raggedly joyful reprise of the title track by a New Orleans brass band is a final unexpected treat. (Righteous Babe)