Sometimes it's fun to consider what-ifs, like, "What if Ani DiFranco had signed with a major record label rather than opting to record and release her albums independently?" Once millions of dollars and videos of her looking all hot and sexy - riding on a hog or rolling around on a beach or dry-humping some dancer - changed her life, would she have been able to produce the insightful, painfully honest albums she churns out today with what seems like the regularity of tax season? Of course, fans want to imagine such a thing is impossible, that DiFranco would never sell out, but it's still fun (and whatever you think, a record deal can be a pretty compromising event in a person's life. It's hard to turn back once the Dark Side has you).
Since 1990, though, DiFranco has basically single-handedly proven that you don't need a record label to become an idolized, celebrated musical artist. All you need is truth, a bit of lyrical style, and a voice that offers a more intimate look into one's life than a video camera could ever hope to. With Reprieve, her latest album (recorded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina), nothing has changed except
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DiFranco's delivery. No, she hasn't gone pop. No, she hasn't stopped talking about politics. No, she isn't any less bitter about the state of the world or a woman's place in it. But DiFranco offers up something considerably more laconic than her most recent efforts, paring down her music to reveal an even more intense truth in haunting songs that, though not recorded live, place you right next to her at the bonfire as she pluck-strums her guitar. "Decree" makes the point best, as DiFranco sings, "the stars are going out and the stripes are getting bent." Ouch.