Finding love, having a kid and moving to New Orleans have all had a profoundly positive effect on Ani diFranco's poetry and music. As she sings in "If Yr Not" on her new release, if you're not getting happier as you get older then something is badly wrong. On the majority of the songs on this album, there is an unhurried artiste who is confidently at the top of her game - sparse arrangements that, with their quiet poetry, shed some light on the human condition. As always, diFranco's playing of her many accoustic and electric guitars, with their weird and wonderful tunings, is nothing short of virtuosic.
Politically diFranco has, throughout her entire career, been actively promoting the Occupy values. Well before anyone actually Occupied Tahrir Square, Wall St or any of the other Main Streets anywhere else, she was penning scathing attacks on the military industrial patriarchy in the USA such as "To The Teeth" and "Self Evident". She touches here on being homeless (the lifeboat in "Lifeboat" being a park bench), using aircons and heaters less ("Splinter"), buying local and buying less ("J"), demanding less packaging ("Zoo"), and on an "Amendment" to enshrine hard-won women's rights. She calls for overthrowing the oil tycoons with whale harpoons for there being "no fish in the water, no birds in the sky, no life in the soil and no end to the lie".
Her feminist re-working of the old Pete Seeger anthem "Which Side Are You On?" is a raucous rallying cry to all progressive people in the USA to get out and vote later this year. We start with some simple banjo picking by 90 year old Seeger himself and end with the beautifully dirty sounds of New Orleans brass and a marching anthem for the times.
"...the curse of Reaganomics has finally taken its toll. Lord knows the free market is anything but free. It costs dearly to the planet and the likes of you and me."
But this time around it is the tenderness of the love songs that is most striking. It sounds like she now has a life partner who has taught her to "Unworry" (and whom she has taught to "unhide"). On the sublimely beautiful "Albacore" she talks of having "just tattooed a wedding band on what looks to me like my mother's hand" and she sees "a honeymoon in the albacore sky". In "Hearse" she talks of "following you into the next life like a dog chasing a hearse" and in "Mariachi", she and her lover form a perfect two-person mariachi band. "Let's get this party started" she sings, "let's squeeze the lime. The mariachi life is really more than fine"
And she's right. It is.