The great thing about Ani DiFranco is that she's never willing to settle down, even if her previous resting place had been a pretty good spot. Although it was her angry acoustic-punk that first brought her to national acclaim, as she's matured she's developed her sound in other, more delicate ways. Reprieve, her latest album, is a stripped-down affair, relying mostly on swollen bass and a pensive guitar to guide it along. Yet there's a real complexity to the arrangements, coupled with DiFranco's smart lyrics, that makes it one of her most affecting records to date, provocative without being preachy, emotional without being sentimental. The honesty she's always given us is still there, as well as the occasional, requisite political statement. "The stars are going out/and the stripes are getting bent," she sings on the lovely "Decree," probably the most lyrically aggressive song on the album. But the subtlety, the tenderness with which she delivers her messages, shows the work of an artist who's not only fully comfortable with herself as a musician but also as a person. She refuses to be bound to a stool as an acoustic troubadour. Though her backdrops may change, DiFranco's sincerity and passion always remain at the forefront of her work, and it's that restless consistency that makes Reprieve more than worth a listen.

Marisa Brown writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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