Yins and Yangs

Reveling Reckoning (Righteous Babe Records)
ani difranco

By Tim Roberts

Oh, my. Has she of dreadlocks, nose rings, tattooed rings on her fingers, in-your-face feminism and disguised sexuality, the one whose intense fingerpicking style makes your fingertips itch to listen to it created a masterpiece? Yes.

Does it all gel together, flow seamlessly and have a thematic continuity like Little Plastic Castle or anything previous? No. But in a career with a library of releases still in print, a homemade label that gives freaky people a chance to get their music heard, and an image as an entrepreneur (though a reluctant one) that has, at 31, already made her a stellar role model for young women, what does it matter? The two discs of ani difranco's Reveling Reckoning do what Something, Anything did for Todd Rundgren, Bitches Brew did for Miles Davis, or even the deified White Album did for The Beatles: not everything on them is perfect, but the works as a whole became the creative imprint for their entire careers.

What's initially striking about R R is the packaging, impressive and sales-presentation slick. Each disc is distinctive with its own lyric book and credits (i.e., there is no disc 1 and disc 2 with a booklet for both). The set's logo is two lower-case "r"s, back to back with the serifs curving outward. Think of it as an anti yin-yang: the two concepts of reveling and reckoning share a common emotional origin, but whichever direction you take does not necessarily influence the other.

The Reveling disc is just that. difranco starts off with a funky, sexy growl and slow rap in "Ain't it That Way," backed by an acrobatic, spare horn line consisting of flute, sax, and trumpet. Then she slides into some rhythm-and-blues with "OK" and drops back into acoustic solo in "Garden of Simple," which marks one of the inconsistencies in the whole work. She has included some singer-songwriter pop with "Heartbreak Even." Plus it appears no good instrument goes unused in this disc. Kazoos, a sample from a message on her answering machine, poetry, and a tongue drum all bolster the tracks that use them.

If Reveling is bold and experimental, Reckoning is subdued and introspective. Even the disc color is different. Reveling's is a sun-glow orange. Reckoning's looks like the surface color of an ice rink after a Zamboni has shaved over it. This is the disc you have set aside for cool rainy days when you're alone and all your old hurts seem as fresh as if they had happened five minutes earlier. Instrumentation is sparse, mostly just difranco and her guitar, and the tone of each piece, from "Your Next Bold Move" to "In Here" is quiet and tinged with a little pain. The whole of Reckoning is what its title suggests: our passions come with a price and we have to pay it. It's a toll that's charged so we can move on with our lives.

Reveling Reckoning may have its tiny flaws. Had it been perfect, it would have been enshrined as musical perfection. But that would have taken away its ability to do what all the best works of art do: illuminate our feelings.

Make an investment in yours with Reveling Reckoning.