Ani Difranco softens up

Ani Difranco’s new double-CD release offers the best of several worlds. Funk, folk and slow groove are only a few stops on Revelling (Righteous Babe Records). But if its soft, muted tunes are what you’re in the mood for, simply flip over the CD case and pull out the sister disc, Reckoning.

Revelling/Reckoning is not simply one disc that ran a little over time. Each album has its own personality, and one does not precede the other. The CDs share equal parts of the package, including separate lyric booklets.

Revelling opens with a solid, funky beat that is similar in style to Drums & Tuba, a recent addition to Difranco’s Righteous Babe line-up. An ever-present trumpet compliments the full-band approach of the first song, “Ain’t That the Way.” The full sound of the track carries on to track two, “O.K.,” but Difranco leaves the band behind, playing every instrument herself for the rest of the songs.

After starting off hard, Revelling quickly slips into low gear, returning to a one-woman-and-a-guitar format on “Garden of Simple.” The album remains at the slower pace through the chilling “Tamburitza Lingua.” Instead of being an upbeat album, the funkier songs pop up as exceptions to the disc’s predominantly soft sound. Songs such as “Heartbreak Even,” featuring a poppy, melodic bass line, and “What How When Where (Why Who),” a quirky, jazzy track with chord changes that would sound more at home on a Bela Fleck or Dave Matthews Band album, are sharp inconsistencies in Revelling‘s general tone.

The record is hardly a scam, just less of a party album than the title might suggest. Instead, it plays like an aimless meandering stroll, with its pleasant up-slopes and soft declines. It moves without a destination, but still makes for a leisurely walk.

Before moving on to Reckoning, it should be noted that the two discs played one after the other, in either order, can be something of an Ani overload. With much more than two hours of music, the CDs should be heard at separate times.

Reckoning proves to be an even more subdued album than its contemporary. The guitar lacks the crash and clatter of Revelling, but with soft sounds come harsh words. Lyrics such as those of “Subdivision” and the opening track, “Your Next Bold Move,” hold the same activist tendencies Difranco has always preached – not direct social action, but at least social consciousness.

The tracks on Reckoning fall into several different styles, from the pedal-steel-guitar country of “Sick of Me” to the soft, muted trumpet of “Revelling” that evokes memories of Billie Holiday, the songs are mostly slow, mournful ballads that rely more on Difranco’s voice than background instrumentation.

Five instrumental tracks interspersed throughout the album are hardly songs, but mere noodlings that never made it through the songwriting stage. Their main purpose is the connection of different songs, linking together songs that may be similar in pace but need a buffer to balance out the variant styles.

Both discs, whatever order they are listened to, separate or together, satisfy the listener in a most exciting way. Although the entirety of the 29-song release is far softer than past albums, it keeps a consistency and quality throughout its extensive track listing that is wholly fulfilling for the listener looking for a laid-back, contemplative record.

Revelling/Reckoning is in stores now

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