Folk singer Ani DiFranco's latest release, "Reprieve," is at turns meditative, dark and soaring -- a pleasing mix of past Anis all rolled into one, including the signature spoken-word track. The only thing missing in this joint effort with bassist Todd Sickafoose (whose soulful pluckings open the album) is the funky, jazzed-up instrumentation of recent efforts "So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter" (2002) and "Evolve" (2003) -- a welcome omission for pan-Ani fans. She and co-producer/baby-daddy Mike Napolitano started recording "Reprieve" in New Orleans in early 2005, but following Hurricane Katrina had to finish it in Buffalo, New York, and the tragedy of the Big Easy -- and its political overtones -- provides the emotional background for the record. There are the some added electronic blips, beeps and whirls here, especially on the almost Björkian intro to "Millenium Theater," but the album's strengths are still classic Ani, all thumping guitar and blistering delivery.
-- Lamar Clarkson
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