Ani Difranco Reprieve

Ani DiFranco began recording Reprieve in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina forced her to evacuate, leaving most of her gear behind. She returned to her hometown of Buffalo where she finished the album with the help of only a synthesiser and Omnichord. That it was finished under such strained conditions — the aftermath, essentially, of an apocalypse — well explains the disc’s portentous tone. Experimental arrangements abound. Double bassist Todd Sickafoose is the only other musician on the disc, also taking up the Wurlitzer, pump organ and piano (to name but a few) as well as a bicycle pump and heaven knows what other contraptions to create a host of ambient whirrs and hisses. DiFranco’s anger gusts through most of the disc, vocals hushed but ominous like the first skiffs of a storm stirring the leaves on the sidewalk. Her fury flares up gale force and the album hits its stride, however, with the arresting "Decree.” The familiar jangle of DiFranco’s staccato guitar style and her trademark vocal phrasing deliver both melodic hooks and scathing commentary on the lies and travesties of our time. At the two-thirds mark the disc starts to peter out, but the first half is powerful enough that you’ll be happy to let it blow itself out as you lie gasping, trying to recover from the storm surge. (Righteous Babe)