April 15, 2011 in Features

The development of DiFranco

Much has changed since she burst onto the scene in the ’90s
By The Spokesman-Review
 
If you go

Ani DiFranco

When: Tonight at 8

Where: Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague Ave.

Cost: $22/$35

Call: TicketsWest outlets (800-325-SEAT, www.ticketswest.com)

Whether you think you’ve outgrown Ani DiFranco, or never felt she was the right fit for you, it might be a good time to test that assessment.

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and poet isn’t the same angst-ridden folksinger and trailblazer for politically charged indie music that she was during the 1990s.

She’s all that and so much more.

Perhaps most significantly, DiFranco is a mom.

And that has had an undeniable impact on her music, as is evidenced by her latest album, 2008’s “Red Letter Year.”

There are still blips of her signature machine-gun cadence and prickly fingerpicking, but it’s mixed in with creeping brass, celestial strings and entrancing breakbeats and loops.

There’s also an overriding sense of … joy?

It might be tempting to look for the sarcasm, but DiFranco is sincere when she sings, “I’ve got myself a new mantra and it says, ‘Don’t forget to have a good time.’ ”

It’s not a total about-face, but “Red Letter Year” reveals more dimensions of DiFranco through her music and her lyrics.

The focus will be on her lyrics when she appears tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater as part of this year’s Get Lit! literary festival.

DiFranco has experimented with multiple musical genres over the last two decades – punk, funk, jazz and hip-hop – but on “Red Letter Year,” the sound is focused and consistent, retaining a blend of all of those genres without sounding forced or contrived.

Punk-rock ethics abound, and a hip-hop backbeat lays a foundation throughout the album. 

DiFranco, who moved to New Orleans from Buffalo, N.Y., enlists Louisiana artists including the Rebirth Brass Band, pedal steel player Richard Comeaux and swamp rocker C.C. Adcock, noted for his dexterity in multiple musical styles: Cajun, zydeco and electric blues.

Produced by DiFranco’s husband, Mike Napolitano, the album employs string arrangements played by a quartet led by violinist Jenny Schienman, a force in the New York jazz scene.

Breaking from the norm, DiFranco took her time with “Red Letter Year,” spending two years crafting it. She typically had released an album every year.

DiFranco has dropped a series of bootlegs and a live album, but not a studio set of truly new material since “Red Letter Year.” But she has remained active since the album’s release, touring regularly and staying involved in sociopolitical activism.

“I think I sorely needed to be slowed down, and finally a little person came along powerful enough to do it,” she said in a press release.

“When I listen to my new record I hear a very relaxed me, which I think has been absent in a lot of my recorded canon. … My baby, she teaches me how to just be in my skin, to do less and be more.”

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