New CD reviews: Ani DiFrancos newest is solidly crafted, non-threatening
Red Letter Year Righteous Babe3.5 stars out of 5Red Letter Year is Ani DiFrancos 18th full-length studio album in 18 years, an amazing feat unto itself. Shes always been capable of throwing lyrical daggers, not afraid of stepping on toes or offending what she sees as societys biggest dangers: religion and the male-dominated culture. It will come as no surprise, then, that as polite as her tone of voice is, the underlying message in her music always has a kick for those willing to listen.The biting sarcasm in her lyrics feels played down on this album, which is full of solidly crafted, melodic songs delivered in a sweet fashion. However, this sometimes betrays the lyrical statements contained within the music.For instance, the abrasive Alla This is full of anti-religious angst, but youd never know it from her oddly calm voice. Feminists can still relate to DiFrancos messages, but theres enough non-threatening material here to make for some easy listening, folksy tunes that males wont walk away from feeling castrated after hearing.In an interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, DiFranco was quoted as saying that because of her new baby My pace is a little bit slower, which I think is great in terms of making records. I think it will benefit the end result. Shes right. Theres no sense of rushing or hurry on this album, just DiFranco taking her time to deliver a beautiful take on the human condition the way she sees it. Charlie Owen, High Life writer
“Preteen Weaponry”3 stars of 5Oneidas Preteen Weaponry is not immediately accessible. Or, more accurately, Oneidas Preteen Weaponry is not, at any point in its 39-minute instrumental run time, easy to get at.The starkly minimal but surprisingly busy piece theres not a lot of different elements, but there is a lot of noise is considerably headier than Oneidas previous, prolific body of work. Since the Brooklyn bands 1997 debut, Oneida hasnt been easily pegged into a specific or digestible category of music. But until Preteen Weaponry, the bands varied alternative, noise, punk, pop and surf rock output has been confined to a regular, 3-minute-song format.The first part of a thematic trilogy titled Thank You Parents, this record doesnt want anything to do with that. Preteen is divided into three, 10-minute-plus tracks that drudge across the amplified rock landscape. It does this in a format thats closer to the minimalist movement than it is to anything a rock band might consider.Luckily, the guys in Oneida know what theyre doing, and they navigate a potentially disastrous shift in style by breeding familiarity through battering-ram drums and simple bass lines, and by infusing this recording with the kind of energy you might expect from a live set in a particularly small, dank and sparsely populated music club. Margaret Hair, Steamboat Pilot & Today
Harps and Angels3.5 stars of 5Probably best known in recent years for writing theme music to Pixar animations, wry piano man Randy Newman has one of the more comforting voices in music, despite his alternately joking and pointed observations on life.His time spent composing movie scores comes across in the easy, well-paced shuffle of every tune on Newmans first solo record in almost 10 years, Harps and Angels. The opening track is both a re-introduction and a goodbye to those who have found Newmans cynical but also sometimes heartbreakingly sincere songs fitting over the years.Always a storyteller, Newman has since his 1970s debut managed to approach serious topics- war, poverty, racism, foreign policy, near-death experiences, loves and lives lost with a brightness of wit and lightness of hand that make him more lasting than any novelty could be.He has a fantastic, old-school-Disney songwriting quality that allows for ragtime dance breaks and tearjerker symphonic flourishes and New Orleans funeral-march horns all elements that come out in the refreshingly personal Losing You and the sprightly Laugh and Be Happy.The blatantly insincere A Few Words in Defense of Our Country rattles off historical tyrants in comparison with our lovely administration, the mildly offensive Korean Parents sticks to its title topic, and Potholes compares the people and moments closest to the singers life to holes in the road.Its vintage Newman and it remains relevant; its fun to listen to and it leaves a sour taste. Being that hes always been a bit sour himself, Newman wouldnt have it any other way. Margaret Hair, Steamboat Pilot & Today
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