Ani DiFranco: Up Up Up Up Up Up

Ani DiFranco: Up Up Up Up Up Up

With her own record label, a large back catalog, a loyal fan following, and an ability to sell out every venue she plays, Ani DiFranco can pretty much do whatever she wants: She can release a record or two a year, while other similarly prolific acts have to pad the vaults. She can be earnest and political, ignoring the whims of mainstream radio programmers or record executives. And she can bite the hands that feed her, engaging in persnickety tirades against media sources that almost invariably fawn over her. In short, DiFranco is free to have as much or as little fun as she wants, and as usual, she exercises her liberty to do both on Up Up Up Up Up Up, her 12th studio disc in nine and a half years. Opening with the heavy-handed political statement "'Tis Of Thee" and closing with the vocally playful 13-minute jam session "Hat Shaped Hat," the album's remainder throws another curve, rarely straying from sweetly ambling, airy, spare ballads. After its opening words of protest, Up Up Up Up Up Up quickly settles into loose, jazzy understatement on "Virtue" and the pretty, eight-and-a-half-minute "Come Away From It." That knockabout nature occasionally gets the better of DiFranco—the organ-tinged "Angel Food" is so dull, it's barely there—but in a way, "Angel Food" is indicative of the fascinatingly contradictory singer's entire recorded output: She even takes musical subtlety to its over-the-top extreme. Still, Up Up Up Up Up Up is one of DiFranco's best records, benefiting immeasurably from a surprisingly soft touch.

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