record reviews february 2021

ani difranco

Revolutionary Love (Righteous Babe)


Recorded pretty much completely in just two days, this finds DiFranco reflecting on the past year, taking inspiration from Valarie Kaur’s memoir, See No Stranger, a book calling for love as social change, of looking at others rather than only seeing yourself. It opens with the slow and soulful bluesy seven-minute title track with its echoes of classic era Laurel Canyon and the likes of early Bonnie Raiit, Laura Nyro and Chi Coltrane as she sings “I will ask you questions/ I will try to understand/ And if you give me your story/ I will hold it in my hands.” Continuing into Bad Dream, that jazz feel percolates throughout, tempered with pop and funk, creating a musical mood far warmer than some of the images of and references to the social climate. The Latin-groove Do Or Die directs its barbs at Trump and his dogs, (“right there on Pennsylvania Avenue, the sheetless KKK”) while, by contrast, the samba-tinged Contagious echoes Michelle Obama as she sings “When they go low, we go high.”

Sawing cello introduces the rhythmically bubbling, burping Chloroform, sung in breathy short gasps, while Station Identification is almost entirely instrumental, instruments entangling and overlapping, with the repeated mantra “I have a dream/ And you have a dream/ Why are we fighting each other?/ We should be working together” not arriving until near the end. It’s followed by the slow walk, gospel and blues infused six-minute Shrinking Violet, a song about seeking to reclaim the power over herself she gave away to others, counting down to the close with the moody acoustic guitar work of the late night vibe New York Metropolis. A further dash of Latin jazz textures with the sweet soul vocals of Simultaneously about living in two different worlds (”The one I live in and the one that lives in me”), a song that conjures echoes of Marvin Gaye.

Haunting, ethereal woodwind anchors the metronomic beat and vines of the instrumental penultimate Confluence before ending with the near six-minute plucked guitar, percussive synth pulse and soothing strings of Crocus, hope blooming and peace emerging from the chaos in the airily sung “When you open up the doors and the windows too/When you open up the channel.”

Now 50, it’s a long way from the abrasive, spiky records of her early years, a more measured, more, mature, but no less perceptive and emotional observation of the world in which we live and those with whom we share it. Mike Davies 2020