Ani Difranco has had a career that's been made up of changing
things around just after she's hooked people. When Dilate
hit, it was met with a great deal of scepticism. People thought
she was selling out. Ani followers knew her as a punk-folk goddess,
and they liked it that way.
Ani soon gained many of her old fans back with the release of
Living In Clip. She was becoming more comfortable in the
recording studio and had begun to take on her signature funk-folk
sound. She gained many new fans in the period of evolution between
Dilate and To the Teeth (which, in my personal opinion,
is still her finest album). At the start of this phase, she was
just beginning to learn how to display her feelings in song, and
by the end, she had mastered the art.
And then she changed again. She went from albums that were difficult
emotionally, but easy to listen to . . . to albums that became
increasingly difficult to listen to. Her skill level was getting
better, but her voice and musical presence dimmed. The first disc
of Reckoning and Reveling plays very much like Little
Plastic Castles or To The Teeth, but the second plays
very differently. It unwinds with caution. She is slower to make
her points, surer that people would listen. The problem is, many
of us didn't listen.
We whined and moaned that we wanted the old Ani back. We had
discussions about the fact that we hadn't been able to get into
an Ani album lately. Even though she had blatantly titled one
of her albums Evolve, it never really got through to us,
Many Ani fans tried to like Evolve and Educated Guess,
and we found a few gems on both of them. But I think that we all
were still waiting for Ani to process things and move on.
With her newest album, Ani has opened herself up to both her
emotions AND her fans. She has been making emotional albums for
years now, and she's finally figuring out how to make people love
them. If you have missed the old Ani and have wanted an album
that made you excited, this may be that album. Knuckle Down
is full of laid back musings that even casual fans will love.
With the inclusion of several guest musicians and co-producer
Joe Henry, Knuckle Down is a demonstration of growth
(not heresy, as some people would have you believe).
The sound on Knuckle Down is a mellow one. Even in the
intensely emotional songs, there's a new laid-back feel to her
voice and instrumentation. Ani sticks to what works musically
- she fingerpicks acoustic guitar in the middle of each song,
whether playing fast poppy melodies or eerie, slow strums. Many
of the songs are blanketed in strings, piano and bass, adding
a melodic quality demonstrated in the softly flowing "Studying
There are many quote-worthy moments on this album, but one line
from "Manhole" struck me in particular: "But after
my dreaded beheading/ I tied that sucker back on with string/
And I guess I'm pretty different now considering."
That's the Ani I love, right there.
1. Knuckle Down
2. Studying Stones
4. Sunday Morning
6. Seeing Eye Dog
7. Lag Time
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