"I've got myself a new mantra," Ani DiFranco shares on her new studio album. "It says `Don't forget to have a good time.'" This attitude has clearly influenced the dozen tunes on Red Letter Year, which celebrate existence, profess love and tackle thorny political issues with an infectious sense of glee. It's one of Ani's most joyous records to date.
And it has been a long time coming. Red Letter Year was sculpted over the course of two years, a period in which Ani continued to hone her songwriting, performing and recording skills, all the while balancing her new role as a mom. "I think I sorely needed to be slowed down, and finally a little person came along powerful enough to do it," Ani reflects. The end result is an album of focused, layered, panoramic music.
Ani's band - upright bassist Todd Sickafoose, vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon and drummer Allison Miller - is a major source of Red Letter Year's singular personality. On "Emancipated Minor," Miller's driving beat tethers to Ani's killer electric guitar hook, while Sickafoose's bass adds the perfect counterpoint to Ani's acoustic guitar work on "Way Tight". And on "Alla This," Dillon's vibes are as rich and open-minded as Ani's defiant, anthemic lyrics.
Add to the inspired, re-invigorated Ani the uncanny production skills of Napolitano (Joseph Arthur, The Twilight Singers, Squirrel Nut Zippers), the otherworldly string arrangements of long time collaborator Sickafoose, and the inspired playing of guests such as Jon Hassell on trumpet (Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Ry Cooder), and you've got the makings of a DiFranco classic.