Ani DiFranco’s poetry, politics and distinct vocal delivery deservedly get most of the attention, but her musicianship on Reprieve is equally worthy of notice. Her acoustic guitar playing is mesmerizing, as usual, but her melodic fills on electric guitar and keyboards, along with her percussion work, bring some color to this group of songs.
Her interplay with bassist Todd Sickafoose, the only other musician on the album, is prominent. Sickafoose’s acoustic bass is everywhere. His splashy playing evokes Richard Davis’ memorable jazzy mark on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. You hear this lovely soundscape right away on the opener “Hypnotized”, one of the best songs from DiFranco’s increasingly rich catalogue.
Lyrically, Reprieve, which DiFranco started to cut in New Orleans just before Katrina struck, is filled with the type of sophisticated wordplay that her fans have come to expect. On “In the Margins”, DiFranco sings, “Sometimes I see myself/Through the eyes of a stray dog/From the alley across the street.”
The internal politics shift to a wider worldview as DiFranco locks her lens on targets such as Washington, Hiroshima and New Orleans. On the title track, DiFranco weaves the political with the interpersonal, wondering 60 years later about the dropping of atomic bombs and then bringing it all back home: “To split yourself in two/Is just the most radical thing you can do.”