Invariably a looming epitome of political awareness and self-reliance, the very pregnant Ani Difranco is in rare form with her latest studio album "Reprieve." Quite a varied collection, and the first after what has been for her a long absence (the outstanding "Knuckle Down" came out in January 2005), Difranco sounds revitalized and acutely in touch with herself. In each lyric and guitar strum resides a sense of purpose and unquestionable passion.
Romance has never ranked high on Difranco's list of musical agendas, but opening track "Hypnotized" articulates a love story complete with her own wistful, unorthodox style, as she and a handsome stranger suddenly enrapture each other in a country where she does not speak the language. She also nails the feeling of an unhealthy, near-obsessive relationship in "Nicotine," where she cannot help but keep second guessing herself, chiming "you sang that song in my ear, and it tickled those tiny hairs."
The most anthemic moments of the disc, however, are where she wages sharp, articulate criticism on American government and culture, complete with evidence for support. In "Decree," she damns "network yes men" and "the sexed-up strobe of celebrity" for manipulating a vulnerable public, concluding that "the stars are going out, and the stripes are getting bent." In "Millennium Theater," however, she really cuts to the throat of it all.
"Halliburton, Enron/Chief justices for sale/Yucca mountain goddesses/Their tears they form a trail/Trickle down pollution/Patriarchies realign/While the ice caps melt/And New Orleans bides her time."
Further selections glisten and sparkle. Difranco articulates in "Half-Assed" how elusive genuine, unobliterated beauty is, while in "78% H20" she can no longer handle a high maintenance relationship, predicting that the satisfaction will "go from more than ever to not enough in no time." Also, she wisely states in "Unrequited" that if there's one thing she can't understand, "it's the urge to kill something beautiful just to hang it on your wall," while she wistful realizes throughout "In the Margins" just how small she is in the scope of the world.
The most remarkable moment on the disc, however, is the spoken-word title track where she not only foreshadows her then-unknown pregnancy but defends the very essence of what it is to be a woman.
"But when all of nature conspires to make me her glorious whore/It's `cause in my body I hold the secret recipe of precisely what life is for/And the patriarchy that looks to shame me for it is the same one making war."
Difranco is not only a woman, but more of a man than most men will ever be. "Reprieve" is simply the most up-to-date piece of evidence to support that fact.