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Ani DiFranco has written hundreds of songs, played thousands of shows, captured the imaginations of legions of followers, and jammed with folkies, orchestras, rappers, rock and roll hall-of-famers, jazz musicians, poets, pop superstars, storytellers and a martial arts legend. She’s “fixed up a few old buildings” and minimized her carbon footprint before it was trendy – from installing a geothermal heating and cooling system in the renovated church that her label calls home to using organic inks on all the t-shirts she sells. But nothing she’s done in her 18-year career has garnered more attention than a business decision.
Since Ani bucked the major label system in the early-‘90s, opting to release her music on her own terms, the self-described Little Folk singer has been the subject of all kinds of hyperbole. She’s been called “fiercely independent” (Rolling Stone), “inspirational” (All Music Guide), “the ultimate do-it-yourself songwriter” (The New York Times), etc. As the cracks in the music industry get larger and more big-name artists follow Ani’s lead – Radiohead, Madonna and Nine Inch Nails among them – maybe people will just start calling her “smart.”
As important as Righteous Babe Records is to the singer/songwriter/guitarist, she’s more than happy to trust like-minded people with the business and revel in the complete artistic freedom it provides. On her new album, Red Letter Year, she takes more advantage of this freedom than ever before. Conceived, sculpted and refined over the course of two years – a lifetime compared to a typical Ani recording session – the album is an impeccably crafted, multi-layered sonic achievement.
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