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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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Ani DiFranco
So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter
Righteous Babe

Ani DiFranco's reputation as Buffalo's hardest working, perennially independent and always innovative folk singer is permanently solidified, thanks to a ceaseless tour schedule (and the release of a new album a year). DiFranco's career was constructed on a solid tour routine; her road trips have allowed her to amass cadres of devoted fans.

Explosive, feckless, urbane, Ani DiFranco glows with an onstage magnetism. She simply shines under the spotlights, even more so than on record. And fans understand.

So does DiFranco.

Not to generalize, but most artists who release live albums miss the point. Rarely do such albums accurately capture the essence or the artistry of a live show; instead they seem derivative. DiFranco, again, shatters industry standards. Her live albums are visceral testaments to the intensity of her performances. They do not pander to fans; they're not simply souvenirs.

Her first live album, 1997's double-disc Living in Clip, was a revelation. The album humanized DiFranco, capturing wry, witty stage banter, her sordid stories and, most importantly, puissant versions of recorded material. Living in Clip altered the world's perception of DiFranco, and perhaps that was its greatest achievement. When she was relatively unknown, save for the coffee-house/college circuit, Living in Clip amazed people, highlighting DiFranco's riveting performances. Rough around the edges, the album was underproduced, in a sense. But it was honest.

Since '97, DiFranco has matured, naturally, as a musician, as a businesswoman, as an artist. She continues to pen provocative lyrics. She is a peerless writer, a true poet, and she has since released an impressive batch of four studio albums. Her band, no longer a stripped-down bass-drums-guitar trio, now includes a proper brass section. And she continues to amaze onstage.

So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter is very much a companion album to Living in Clip, but it would be disingenuous of DiFranco to release an album that failed to account for her expanded musical horizons. Or, in other words, Living in Clip 2. Yet So Much Shouting... is in some ways a weaker album.

Missing are the between-the-song quirks. DiFranco is still blithe, even playful live, but the album fails to capture such moments. Though DiFranco's band touts its jazz influences, with freeform instrumentation and an added jam sensibility, the album feels stolid, rigidly structured, and uninspired in many ways. Living in Clip was masterful. So Much Shouting... is proficient.

Another quibble: out of the 23 tracks, eight are culled from last year's opus Revelling/Reckoning, a thoughtful album, but new nevertheless. To have a similar track listing when DiFranco's oeuvre is so vast is disappointing. Not to mention that live, many songs resemble their recorded versions. Interested fans should just check out Revelling/Reckoning, instead.

There are exceptions, though. DiFranco's commanding singing — her voice seamlessly transmogrifies from whisper to battle cry — rescues "Swan Dive." DiFranco's angst manifests itself in her staccato, breathless delivery as on the spoken word "Tamburitza Lingua." "Grey" drips with aching piano, serving as an overwhelming expression of emotional devastation.

The album's centerpiece, though, does not surface until the middle of the second disc. "Self Evident," a post-9/11 rumination, has to be one of DiFranco's most polemical, unbridled poems yet. Horns temper the backdrop as she rails poetically against the government. Her eloquence augments her message. It's mesmerizing to listen as DiFranco rhapsodizes about the devastation of New York City. Chilling as she recounts past injustices ("Get our government to pull its big dick out of the sand of someone else's desert/ Put it back in its pants and quit the hypocritical chants of freedom forever"). And inspiring, as she dictates her manifesto ("And we hold these truths to be self evident: #1 George W. Bush is not president/ #2 America is not a true democracy/ #3 the media is not fooling me").

DiFranco includes two other unreleased songs for good measure, but their homogenous, largely horn-blasted sound is unremarkable amidst her more potent material. "Shrug," one of the new songs, is pleasant, up-tempo pop, but it feels somewhat soulless, and that's not what we want from DiFranco.

So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter is not a bad album; it's a portrait of two years on tour. But as with any picture, it is impossible to capture every grand moment. Living in Clip heralded a newfound success, catapulting DiFranco into more mainstream consciousness. This album might make for a storied closing, hopefully serving to usher in a fresh artistic vision.

by Brian Orloff

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