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Ani DiFranco

Which Side Are You On?

Righteous Babe Records

Buy if you like: Joni Mitchell, the Night Watchman

Ani DiFranco is the rare artist with vocal prowess, acoustic-guitar skills and ability to knit together odd tunings, unusual melodies and intellectual lyrics with dexterity. Sometimes her words and music seem to oppose one another, as in "J," a political diatribe set to a slightly happy-go-lucky, reggaefied rhythm. "Life Boat," a devastating examination of homelessness, sounds similarly upbeat. But "Hearse" and "Mariachi," sweet little love songs, are simple, direct and affecting. She offers intriguing views in "Promiscuity" and campaigns for an ERA in "Amendment." Then there's the Pete Seeger-meets-Tom Morello title track, an updated version of the protest song Seeger made famous — and on which he sings and plays banjo. Makes you wanna raise a fist in solidarity. Or rise up and occupy something. Like a voting booth. — Lynne Margolis



Tank Full of Blues

Blue Horizon

Buy if you like: Jimmy Reed, Hot Tuna

Dion DiMucci will always be best known for "The Wanderer," a song that helped shape rock 'n roll as we know it. But lately, Dion has been exploring his blues roots. What makes Tank Full of Blues different from the two previous releases in what is now a trilogy is that this one's made up mostly of original material. The title song and "Holly Brown" (arguably the best song here) have some of the swagger of Jimmy Reed, a bluesman Dion considers one of his biggest influences. Ironically enough, "Ride's Blues" is dedicated to blues pioneer Robert Johnson, but isn't acoustic like Johnson's own recordings; instead, it's a tough, edgy and mostly electric track whose sound is as much rock as it is blues. Dion has clearly not lost his songwriting touch, and here's hoping he's inspired to keep writing and recording for many years to come. — Alan Sculley



What Happened to the La Las

Sugar Hill

Buy if you like: Phish, Widespread Panic

In the jam-band realm, you expect stretches of brilliance and ... stretching. The musical elasticity means sometimes we hear tourniquet-tight grooves, while sometimes the sonic explorations extend a little too far before they snap back. moe. offers up that tightness on the first cut, "The Bones of Lazarus," a jazz-funk-rock-Latin fusion. On "Haze," they head down a guitar-rock trail, almost to the point of heaviness. Then they meander, overloading "Downward Facing Dog" with guitar effects. But the band later surprises with "Chromatic Nightmare," a cartoon-soundtrack of a song featuring a great xylophone solo (or is that the MalletKat synth mentioned in the credits?). "Rainshine" conjures the Dead (as does the skeleton album art), and "Puebla" recalls Phish. Finally, "Suck a Lemon" is a whimsical track with a "la-la-la" ending that's positively Monty Pythonesque. — Lynne Margolis

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