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Ani Difranco
Knuckle Down
Righteous Babe Records

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, did it?

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 Stones."

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.

-Emily Vandiver

Track Listing:
1. Knuckle Down
2. Studying Stones
3. Manhole
4. Sunday Morning
5. Modulation
6. Seeing Eye Dog
7. Lag Time
8. Parameters
9. Callous
10. Paradigm
11. Minerva
12. Recoil

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