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Album Review

POP MUSIC

*** 1/2 ANI DiFRANCO "Little Plastic Castle" Righteous Babe

February 15, 1998|Natalie Nichols

Don't be fooled by the whimsical title. There's nothing tiny or fake about Ani DiFranco's music. On her 10th album, the independent singer-songwriter continues to hone her deceptively casual talent for drilling through a morass of conflicting emotions and reaching the core of prickly situations, not the least of which are her own.

As DiFranco's popularity has increased, rock-media pundits have analyzed every move, trying in vain to compartmentalize her unique urban-folkie sound and unflinching observations. She vents her displeasure at these simplifications here, even while poking fun at her predicament, in such bitter spoken-sung numbers as "Pixie."

The loose musical vibe contrasts nicely with the laser-like precision of her lyrical barbs. Yet while some songs are peppered with lively horns and guitar, the predominantly percussive, spare arrangements become monotonous.

Still, that doesn't diminish DiFranco's powerful understanding of what it means to be human. She is positive and negative, without contradiction. Even as a note of hope emerges from the angry, personal-to-political musings of "Fuel," she sounds hopeless on "Two Little Girls," expressing in a half-choked whisper the frustration of watching a friend disintegrate from drug abuse.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

Hear Ani DiFranco

* Excerpts from "Little Plastic Castle" and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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