The Stumblings of It All

The Folksinger's back. Straight from her own studio. With her own horn section. And with Revelling/Reckoning, Ani DiFranco presents her 14th searing, gut-wrenchingly self-revealing album. And she made it a double.

The first of the two albums, Revelling, proves immediately vital and gripping. DiFranco packs the album with funk- and jazz-infused punk-folk, continuing the work she began in earnest with 1999's To the Teeth. Several of the songs, most notably "O.K." and "Tamburitza Lingua," feature DiFranco's expansive solo talent as she plays every instrument—from key bass to tamburitza, from electric guitar to tongue drum.

Revelling translates an unprecedented amount of the energy that DiFranco is known for in her live performances. This comes in large part from the tight relationship between DiFranco and her band members. In the case of "What How When Where (Why Who)," the song evolved as bassist Jason Mercer built on Daren Hahn's original drum groove; DiFranco scrambled to finish the lyrics the night before saxophonist Maceo Parker dropped in to contribute a cameo. This collaborative whirlwind results in one of the liveliest, most engaging songs in the entire two hours of the double album.

"The people that I play with now, many of them, come from jazz traditions," DiFranco explains. "I hired them specifically because I felt their sensibilities were right for what I'm trying to do here. They have all the knowledge and the history to be able not to just follow my musical direction, but infuse the music with their own inspirations. The result is partly my own changing ideas of music and partly those of the people that I'm playing with."

COMPARED WITH Revelling's relatively raucous exploration of new artistic directions, Reckoning seems understated. While the band contributes to more than half of the songs, the emphasis here is on the "Little Folksinger" more familiar to long-time Righteous Babe fans. The 16 songs move from one to the next with a meditative, steely tone. Lyrically, DiFranco battles with the Bush/multinational machine on "Your Next Bold Move," reveals the vulnerabilities required in performance on "Imagine That," and comments on the fear and apathy inherent in contemporary American culture with "Subdivision" and "Old, Old Song."

As the album continues, the scope of DiFranco's gaze turns more and more inward. She wrestles openly with her choice "to invite someone into her melodrama"—the emotional strains and immeasurable graces of her three-year-old marriage to her sound engineer, Andrew Gilchrist. The band adds to the texture of these moments of recognition, confession, and bemusement. As DiFranco peels back the layers of the world around her and within her, the listener cannot help but recognize herself in the stumblings of it all.

Beth Isaacson is editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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