I am a huge fan of The Little Folk Singer, The Righteous Babe, the one and only Ani Difranco. So it is with a heavy heart that I report that 'Red Letter Year' is an ultimately disappointing record.
Tempted by pop psychology and cliche, it might be said that Ani has lost her edge since having a baby. But some of the best tracks here ('Present/Infant', 'The Atom') were inspired by that experience. No, it seems more that this continues the decline hinted at by her superior previous effort 'Reprieve'. The musical flourishes are familiar, as are the lyrical stylings. They sound fine. There are no huge clangers, no totally misguided descents into new instrumentation or new sounds. Todd Sickafoose on bass and Allison Miller on drums add something, although not quite as much as they do live.
No, 'Red Letter Year' just lacks. It is just stale enough, just devoid enough of the kind of energy that characterised the other records, just self-indulgent enough, to render it forgettable.
Those who have never heard Ani Difranco before will doubtless find this pleasing. But they are strongly advised to choose a record from the near-perfect run of 'To The Teeth', 'Revelling/Reckoning', 'Evolve', 'Educated Guess' and 'Knuckle Down'. Or pick up one of the live bootlegs.
Stand-out tracks: 'Alla This', 'Present/Infant' and 'The Atom'.