ANI DIFRANCO, Revolutionary Love (Righteous Babe, 2021). Ani DiFranco is a powerhouse. For more than three decades she has worn her musical heart on her sleeve and has never been shy about making her feelings known. With Revolutionary Love, her thoughts and emotions are once again on display, but the old percussive punk-folk sound has been replaced by a smooth and seasoned groove that would fit nicely in the Stax Records catalog. The overall sound, like Ani herself, is tough but vulnerable. Tunes like the title track, “Chloroform,” and “Do or Die” are full of lyrically emotional rough edges smoothed out by the benefits of age and experience. The band even manages to sneak in an instrumental! One doesn’t to use the cliché about an artist getting better with age like a fine wine, but … yeah.
THUMBSCREW, Never is Enough (Cuneiform, 2021). Is it avant-garde, or is it just plain quirky? Perhaps it’s a bit of both. No matter … Never is Enough is the latest unconventional musical adventure from the power trio known as Thumbscrew. Guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Thomas Fujiwara each bring a unique voice to their proceedings in order to create not a melting pot, but more of an off-kilter musical stew where the groove hits in fits and starts with each player giving you a musical element to embrace while the other two take off to parts unknown. Each musician is heard clearly within the din, but they never trip over one another. Like water being absorbed into concrete cracks, each instrument is perfectly able to find the right musical crevice. Thumbscrew alters the voice of modern jazz without getting caught up in its own form of self-righteousness or drowning in a sea of pretension. Never Is Enough is a remarkable melodic journey.
JAIMIE BRANCH, FLY or DIE LIVE (International Anthem, 2021). One thing is certain: no one will EVER doubt Jaime “Breezy” Branch’s sincerity. The trumpeter puts her playing and vocal skills on full display on FLY or DIE LIVE, an in-concert testimonial in support of her most recent studio recordings bearing the same name. Although this show was recorded in Zurich, Switzerland, Branch informs the audience that while these songs may document serious problems in America, the social issues she covers are actually common the world over. Fronting a brilliant quartet consisting of Lester St. Louis (cello), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums), Branch’s trumpet tone reaches the stratosphere, accompanied by vocals that are less songs and more pleas to make the world a better place before it’s too late. If we have any sense at all, we should be giving her our undivided attention.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell
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