White girls can't funk -- somebody should tell Ani DiFranco this. Her last album, 1999's To the Teeth, was an awkward, clumsy stroll through loose jams and barely-there grooves. In a way, it made sense, because after 10 years of DiFranco playing the indie-girl/entrepreneur/neo-folkie role for anyone with a camera and an ear, the album slapped her sensitive-gal audience into a whole new sound. Unfortunately, DiFranco's pasty white songs just can't get it up. Her new album, Revelling/Reckoning, is a two-disc set that simultaneously refuses to accept its general unfunkiness and acknowledges as much by returning to the biting acoustic folk that made her a cult heroine in the first place. It's partly a record for DiFranco herself, partly one for her fans. Because she's already dipped into the funk pool (and now knows there is more out there than an acoustic guitar and witty wordplay, as sax great Maceo Parker's returning presence makes clear), even her return-to-roots folk songs don't have the wide-eyed charm of Dilate, the 1996 album that earned DiFranco both folk credibility and an avid fan base.
There's a more discriminating awareness of musicianship on Revelling/Reckoning; one that's never ragged or tough in its execution but settles for consolation. It's not as simple as splitting Revelling/Reckoning into respective discs (as the titles imply, one kicks out the jams -- relatively speaking, of course -- and the other gazes inward). Somewhere between the two discs are a few good cuts ("Marrow," "Reckoning," "Subdivision"), but with 29 to sort through, it's a struggle to find the gems. The fact that there's a general haphazard feel to the project (spoken-word and instrumental interludes are included) only makes matters worse.