Another red-letter album
On first blush, Ani DiFranco’s 20th album is a surprisingly sunny celebration of domestic bliss. “Smiling Underneath” and “Way Tight” chronicle the restorative powers of love in the midst of a soul-sucking world, and “Present/Infant” and “Landing Gear” ruminate on the disruptive but joyful challenges of DiFranco’s new baby daughter. But because this is an Ani DiFranco album, the motor-mouth invocations of Grrrl Power and exhibitions of disarming vulnerability aren’t far behind. Looser and funkier than 2006’s Reprieve, Red Letter Year is a dazzling folk/punk/jazz hybrid. Only bizarre paean “The Atom”—a song that tries to be a secular hymn and protest song, and ultimately fails at both—mars the otherwise fantastic track sequence, which concludes with a reprise of the title track as a joyous New Orleans-brass-band stomp.