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Record Review

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The irrepressible Ani D. is back with the double-CD Revelling/Reckoning, the 15th installment (including two EPs) of her self-made saga, as told on her own Righteous Babe record label (which makes her the most unlikely of CEOs). DiFranco's earliest recordings, dating to 1991, characterized a punk-meets-folk worldview that found DiFranco armed with big boots, a shaved head and an acoustic guitar tuned to some intriguingly atypical chord voicing. Behind it all was an empathetic, unblinking ability to capture the absurdity and desperation of human existence.

DiFranco's music has evolved with time, thanks to a steady touring band and more recently to having her own recording studio. These changes characterize the Revelling disc, which demonstrates effective, conspicuous influences from jazz, old-school funk and hip-hop. Example: The scratch-influenced vocal phrasing of "what how when where (why who)" is ingenious enough, but it's a loony, angular keyboard line from Julie Wolf and agile sax break from guest Maceo Parker that make it extraordinary.

However, a dark emotional cloud always has shadowed DiFranco's work, and this outing is no exception. As musically inviting as is Revelling, the Reckoning disc is equally as challenging -- a quiet, lugubrious affair, often anchored by tremeloed guitar. A few tunes feature effective, discreet arrangements (the clarinet, trumpet and piano of the smoldering "So What," for example, or the country weep of "Sick of Me"). The majority, however, are raw and spacious, inviting the listener to know both the light and darkness of her artistry.

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