Love to see you smile

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Ani Difranco doesn’t seem to have experienced a moment of writer’s block since she started flipping sides like McDonald’s hamburgers more than a decade ago.

That bitch.

Most of her early work was spotty, however; hyper-boring melodrama here, a taste of brilliance there, until the 1997 release of Living in Clip, a masterwork capturing the unnerving intimacy of her gripping live presence. Little Plastic Castle came the following year, an obvious sign of growth and experimentation musically. It suffered, however, because of a lack of continuity: upbeat ska-infused tracks next to New Orleans-ish jazz next to sparse, misery-soaked ballads. In 1999, she whipped out Fellow Workers (with Utah Phillips), Up Up Up Up Up Up and To The Teeth — all of which provided a sort of tired repetition of the same old jittery political-personal Ani formula. Thankfully, in 2000, she took a bit of a break, only releasing the Swing Set EP. Thankfully, because we knew that if she just took a little time to relax and fool around a bit with the material, we’d get the remarkable display of musical dexterity and consistent flow that we get on Revelling/Reckoning. The overachiever that she is, Difranco had to release a double album, 29 songs total. Tsk, tsk.

Thus the only flaws include Difranco’s tendency to overdo things — vocally and with the guest appearances seemingly for name’s sake only. She doesn’t have to deliberate over every single syllable. And if you can barely hear Maceo Parker’s non-harmonizing vocals in the background of the opening track on the Reckoning side, why bother? Many of the guest appearances just add frills and bows to what could have been more profound had Ani just sat down with her good friend, a guitar. And I must divulge that a few of the tracks sound a little too familiar, like reworkings of previous material: similar songs and different words, different songs and similar words.

Other than those complaints, it’s a nice mix of everything lovable about Ani. It’s full of her famous silly/profound pick-you-up/downers about how “some crazy fucker carved a sculpture out of butter and propped it up in the middle of the Bonanza breakfast bar” or how “you are a party and I’m a school night.” Fans of Difranco’s spoken-word space-outs will have plenty of her characteristic contorted cliches and twisted manifestos to turn over in their heads for weeks after listening to the CDs. A few funked-out “raps” make the cut, in addition to a couple welcome wordless cascades. The difference, however, is that they all join together to form a more complete atmosphere.

Revelling/Reckoning is a sign of lyrical maturity as well (although logical explanation for the misspelling of reveling escapes me). As far as the personal side, the CD represents all of the gorgeous commitments, contradictions and confessions of a low-maintenance girl who thinks too much and holds way too much made-up and very true baggage. And politically, she holds up specific actions and examples instead of hiding behind blanket generic protests. But in a few instances, the simplicity is what gives the song its force, as is the case in “Subdivision,” which opens with, “white people are so scared of black people” and ends with “America the beautiful” succumbing to its last dumb decision and becoming “one big subdivision.” This strong and defenseless nature reigns true throughout the rest of the strung-out teeter-totter songs, depicting the catharsis in admitting defeat and the power to get back up, even when you know you’re gonna get shot down again and served your own wounded flat heart on a platter. Heck, a million are served every day.

Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times staff music writer. E-mail her at mgiannini@metrotimes.com.

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