Revelling/Reckoning Album reviews.
Release Date: 04.10.01
Record label: righteous babe
A Girl and Her Guitar
by: matt halverson
Unless you want to hear yourself on Ani DiFranco's next record-and at her current pace, there'll be another one sometime next year-be careful when leaving messages on her answering machine. The righteous babe from Buffalo is not above giving her friends surprise cameos in her newest collection of songs, regardless of how inane their messages may be ("Wow, I think I exploded your machine playing kazoo into it!"). Which is not to say Revelling/Reckoning, her multi-layered double album and twelfth release in eleven years (not counting last fall's Swing Set EP) is trite or easy with the gimmicks. To the contrary, its complexity and scope prove that the hardest working woman in music has a whole lot of good stuff to say.
Though released as a set-in quite a nifty little package, might I add-Revelling/Reckoning is really two vastly different recordings that show DiFranco experimenting with new musical styles on the former and revisiting her trademark folk sound on the latter. Revelling begins with an "I love you," and Reckoning concludes with a similar expression of admiration, but together they hit every other emotion possible-sometimes in the same song. "Garden of Simple" may start out lightly ("Some crazy fucker carved a sculpture out of butter / and propped it up in the middle of the bonanza breakfast bar), but before long it opens up to reveal a tender tale of love's labors lost.
Beginning with the release of Little Plastic Castle in '98, DiFranco has become increasingly experimental, adding horns, accordions and even a touch of hip-hop sensibility to her sound. She continues to jazz things up on Revelling, from the funk of "O.K." to the choppy scat rap of "What How When Where (Why Who)," proving she's hardly afraid to mix it up. If she had a hard time traveling these new roads, it would be easy to say she should stick with what works, but she rarely falters in her new incarnation. Add a couple spoken-word tracks and a few instrumentals, and you've got well-rounded album. But we're only halfway done.
Reckoning, as it's name might suggest, takes on a much more subdued tone, reminiscent of the "old" Ani. The songs on the album's second half drift up in clouds of blue cigarette smoke and smell slightly of stale beer, distinct reminders of the seedy clubs in which DiFranco undoubtedly toiled for years as a struggling folk singer. Most find her lightly strumming her acoustic guitar alone while weaving bittersweet stories that may or may not have actually happened. Even with a band to back her up on "So What" (which sounds remotely like To the Teeth's "Soft Shoulder") she is the center of the music.
It would be a mistake to say DiFranco's softened over the years, but she has undoubtedly left her brash, in-your-face attitude behind. She told us she wasn't angry anymore on 1999's Up Up Up Up Up Up, and to be honest, I didn't believe her at the time, but she certainly has mellowed. She still finds a way to question authority ("Tamburitza Lingua") and make us confront our prejudice ("Subdivision"), but it's with a pleading "Why?" instead of an angry "Change NOW!"
With the rate at which DiFranco releases albums, it might be easy to think she sacrifices quality for quantity. Instead of putting out one semi-good album every year, why not one good one every couple years, right? Wrong. As her work ethic shows, the little folk singer lives to make music, and the quality of all 29 tracks on Revelling/Reckoning proves that some artists don't need four years to put their heart in to a truly memorable recording.
And Ani does it once a year.