Calm before the storm

Posted on 24 Aug 2006 at 4:19pm
By Gilbert Garcia – Pop Music Critic

Ani DiFranco deceptively quiet on latest dispatch



Ani DiFranco
“Reprieve”
Righteous Babe

There’s something comforting in the regularity that Ani DiFranco releases records. In the last 15 years, hardly 12 months pass without a new offering from the prolific bisexual singer. Famously unaffected by fads, DiFranco remains remarkably consistent beginning with a fiery take on folk rock and working in jazzy elements. Now she’s settling into a introspective era best characterized by her last two albums “Educated Guess” and “Knuckle Down.”

DiFranco’s annual missives aren’t about surprise. Her latest, “Reprieve,” is a logical step the artist’s musical journey. Spare, meditative and relatively sedate by DiFranco’s standards, “Reprieve” represents a deep calming breath in the middle of a restless career.

“Reprieve” is a product of circumstance. After more than a decade on the road, DiFranco hit a wall last summer, canceling much of her tour schedule due to exhaustion and a wrist injury. To make matters worse, Ani found herself laying down the initial tracks for “Reprieve” in her adopted home of New Orleans just as Katrina came roaring into the gulf.

“Reprieve” echoes a simple approach, lacking the complex instrumentation or signature wrist-busy strumming of DiFranco’s earlier work. But what tracks lack in spark, they more than make up for in real passion like album opener “Hypnotized” and the mellow “78% H2O.”

DiFranco has long been a “love her or hate her” artist. In that sense, “Reprieve” isn’t likely to settle any bets. On the plus side, the singer is as insightful as ever, clever and truly gifted with a turn of phrase.

Her guitar work, though not as flashy as on previous records, continues to be solid and perhaps even more focused because of its minimalism. On the down side, all the usual DiFranco caveats apply: “Reprieve” should have been whittled down. And some tracks occasionally embarrass with their clumsy take politics.

While hardcore fans might be less enamored with this calmer, less-excitable approach, new listeners may find “Reprieve” to be an excellent introduction. Just as big things sometimes come in small packages, big sounds will often seem the quietest at first. This is one of those times.



Sigur Ros
“Saeglopur”
EMI

Queer-led Icelandic shoegazers Sigur Ros are many things: hypnotic, groundbreaking, inspired. But they’re definitely not brief. Which is what makes the previously unreleased track “Refur,” from the group’s new “Saeglopur” EP such an anomaly. At just under three minutes, the delicate piano track packs the full Sigur Ros production into pop-song time. Two other unreleased tracks, including the beautiful bell-driven “Kafari” and a DVD of collected videos make this EP a worthwhile investment for even the most casual fan.



Paris Hilton
“Paris”
Warner Bros.

Party-girl heiress Paris Hilton got this summer off to a hot start with “Stars Are Blind,” a single that was weirdly not as bad as it should have been. On her debut album, “Paris,” Hilton again defies predictions with a slick set of tracks that are catchy at their best, and not unforgivable at their worst. Hilton may be a lousy singer, but she’s not dumb. Rather than the vanity project this record was expected to be, it now seems poised to cement Paris’ place in pop-culture stardom. Just like the girl herself, “Paris” is perfectly on-brand girly, bubbly, cute and vapid.

OUT AND ABOUT

Lesbian singer and songwriter Lucie Blue Tremblay does one thing, and does it very well. A writer of love songs in the broadest sense of the word, the French-Canadian sees beauty everywhere she looks. Her music is idyllic neither cloying nor saccharine, but with a genuinely uplifting quality that seems almost out of fashion these days. Good feelings will no doubt fill the room at this intimate early evening show.

Heart and Soul Coffeehouse, 4615 California Pkwy. Fort Worth. Aug. 26. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. $15 opendoorproductionstx.com.

Henry Rollins isn’t gay, so stop asking. The “Rollins is gay” rumor has been dogging the punk icon since his Black Flag days. And yes, Rollins has been vocal in his support of GLBT causes, most recently devoting time and energy to the same-sex marriage debate. But Hank is just one of the good guys loud and occasionally vulgar, but with his heart in exactly the right place. Opening for fellow L.A. punk legends X, Rollins and his band are guaranteed to get your juices flowing one way or another.

Gypsy Tea Room, 2548 Elm St. Aug. 29. Doors at 7 p.m. $23. 888-512-7469.

Whether you consider them the height of kitsch or a cry for help, New York’s Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players should be seen at least once in your life. Made up of guitarist, singer and songwriter Jason Trachtenburg, his wife Tina, who handles the slideshow, and pre-teen drumming daughter Rachel, the trio mine ’50s and ’60s Americana for comedic effect. Though papa Trachtenburg’s melodies may be clunky, the band’s never ceases to amuse.

Gypsy Tea Room, 2548 Elm, St. Aug. 28. Doors at 8 p.m. $13. 888-512-7469.

G. G.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.

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