Ani's got a point, but what is it?
Red Letter Year (Righteous Babe)
ESSENTIAL "The Atom"
The last time Ani DiFranco released an album more or less concurrent with an election, the result was the good-not-great "Knuckle Down," which captured the activist performer in an almost wholly apolitical mood. DiFranco doesn't make that mistake with "Red Letter Year"; before the opener is over, she's referred to "a man with a monkey for a face . . . whistling Dixie and playing dumb" as being in charge. But much of the album sounds like she's simply going through the motions, occasionally picking imagery seemingly just because it rhymes.She pulls it together on "The Atom," building from an arid acoustic guitar to orchestral grandeur as she attempts to boil the entire crux of the miracle of human existence down into a single song . . . and damn near succeeds. But it can't prevent "Red Letter Year" from sounding like it might be DiFranco's first full-on dud. Sixteen studio albums into her career, she was probably long overdue. [Marc Hirsh]