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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Ani DiFranco, Kathleen Edwards and more...

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012

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Ani DiFranco

"Which Side Are You On?"

Righteous Babe


Early on her 17th studio album, Ani DiFranco informs us that "I've become more peaceful/No more fighting/And I ain't gonna waste your time/Wronging and righting." Um...not quite -- and we're not surprised by that, either. While marriage and motherhood have made the steadfastly independent singer, songwriter, producer and record company operator somewhat quieter and gentler in recent years, she's hardly one to muzzle her socio-political sensibility, and "Which Side Are You On?" asks its requisite share of tough questions amidst a broad-reaching musical landscape. The talking blues of "Amendment" and the polyrhythmic "Splinter," for instance, both make a wise and reasoned arguments for women's rights, including abortion, while the title track addresses economic concerns ("Lord knows the free market is anything but free/It costs dearly to the planet and the likes of you and me") and the reggae-flavored "J" -- featuring Cyril and Ivan Neville and Anais Mitchell -- declares that "If there is one thing people know it's that government ain't here for you" and takes on President Barack Obama for "just shifting his weight." Relaxed domesticity, meanwhile, is the album's concurrent them, particularly in more tranquil moments such as "Albacore," "Hearse" and "Zoo" and in the sentimental "Mariachi." DiFranco concludes by advising her listeners to "pour your love into your children/there's nothing left to say," and even though "Which Side Are You On?" says more than that, the balance makes the messages on both sides that much more powerful.


Kathleen Edwards, "Voyageur" (Zoe/Rounder) ***1/2

Between a divorce (from guitarist Colin Cripps) and a new relationship (with Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, who co-produces this 10-song set), Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards hasn't been wanting for drama between her second and third albums. "Voyageur" chronicles the emotional journey with confessional pathos and new ambient touches provided by Vernon, from heart-wringing paeans such as "Going to Hell," "Empty Threat" and "Change the Seats" to the redemptive optimism of the airy "A Soft Place to Land." Guests such as Norah Jones, Francis & the Lights and John Roderick flesh things out even further, making "Voyageur" a trip well worth taking.

New & Noteworthy:

Carolann Ames, "Laurel Canyon Road" (Ear Candy): The Americana singer-songwriter from San Diego again takes on the production duties for her fifth album, just as she did for 2009's "So Long Abilene."

Steve Aoki, "Wonderland" (Ultra): The second album from the southern California electronic artist features guests such as Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, LMFAO, Lil Jon, Chiddy Bang, Kid Cudi and more.

Attack Attack!, "This Means War" (Rise): The third album from the Ohio metalcore group was recorded in frontman/producer Caleb Shomo's home studio.

Jessie Baylin, "Little Spark" (Blonde Rat/Thirty Tigers): The wife of Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill switches things up on her second album with a more rootsy and organic sound than her 2009 debut.

The Big Pink, "Future This" (4AD): Initial reports about a greater hip-hop influence on the British alt.rock quartet's second album were apparently greatly exaggerated.

Black Taxi, "We Don't Know Any Better" (self-released): The second album from the sophisticated indie rock quartet was recorded in its home burg of Brooklyn.

Bombay Bicycle Club, "Different Kind of Fix" (Island): The third album from the British folk-rock trio rolls out on these shores after an August release overseas.

Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian, "Further Explorations" (Concord Jazz): Keyboardist Corea joins forces with the original Bill Evansrhythm section for a tribute trio outing.

Roger Creager, "Surrender" (Thirty Tigers): The country singer-songwriter from Texas delivers his first album in three and a half years, and sixth overall.

Jack DeJohnette, "Sound Travels" (Golden Beam/eOne): The jazz drumming legend works out on his latest solo release with guests Bruce Hornsby, Esperanza Spalding, Bobby McFerrin, Jason Moran and more.

The Devil's Blood, "Thousandfold Epicentre" (Metal Blade): The Dutch occult metal band continues to play for creeps on its sophomore album.

Enter Shikari, "Flash Flood of Colour" (Ambush Reality): Former SikTh [cq] guitarist Dan Weller co-produced the British hardcore group's third studio album, which was recorded in Thailand.

James Fortune, "Identity" (Fiya World Music/Light/eOne): The singer and songwriter moves to a new label after notching seven Top 10 gospel singles form his previous releases.

Girls Generation, "Boys" (Interscope): The first full-length U.S. release from the all-female South Korean pop nonet known as SoShi and SNSD in its homeland.

Aaron Goldberg, Ali Jackson and Omer Avital, "Yes" (Sunnyside): Detroit-born drummer Jackson is part of the sonic summit meeting between these three young jazz lions.

Anthony Green, "Beautiful Things" (Photo Finish): The bonus tracks for the Circa Survive frontman's second solo album include duets with deftones' Chino Moreno, Ida Maria and fun.'s Nate Ruess.

Guided By Voices, "Let's Go Eat the Factory" (Guided By Voices): The Ohio rockers' first new album in eight years sports 21 tracks and gallops in at just under 42 minutes.

Humming House, "Humming House" (Humming House): The debut outing by the Celtic-flavored roots band from Nashville.

The Life & the Times, "No One Loves You Like I Do" (Slimstyle): The experimental rock trio throws a wide array of sounds into its third full-length studio album.

Richard McGraw, "Popular Music" (self-released): The singer-songwriter takes the covers route this time out, with just one original song on a fourth album that takes on Bob Seger, Leonard Cohen, REO Speedwagon and Lady Gaga, among others.

Modern English, "Ricochet Days" (4AD): They'll still melt with you, but the British rockers move beyond their 80s pop and into a more synthesizer-based realm on their latest release.

Jody Nix, "Bright Lights and Country Music" (Hillside): The country fiddler continues to explore nuances of Western swing and Texas shuffles on his second album.

One Sonic Society, "Forever Reign" (Essential): The first full-length outing by an all-star Christian rock band that includes members of Delirious? Treasure Park and the Longing.

Secrets, "The Ascent" (Rise): Former A Day to Remember guitarist Tom Denney rode herd as producer of the debut album from this San Diego modern rock quintet.

The Sedalia Ragtime Orchestra, "The Sedalia Ragtime Orchestra" (Origin Jazz): The 12-piece Missouri group's name pretty much sums up its sound as it works its way through Scott Joplin tunes and other ragtime favorites.

From The Vaults: Marina McBride, "Hits and More" (RCA/Sony Nashville); Frank Sinatra, "The Concert Sinatra" (Concord); Michael W. Smith, "Decades of Worship" (Reunion); Randy Thompson, "Collected" (Jackpot)

Soundtracks: Various Artists, "Pan Am: Music From and Inspired by the Original Series" (Verve)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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