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Ani DiFranco - Knuckle Down
By Kevin Wierzbicki


DiFranco’s last album, Educated Guess, was pretty much an isolationist affair. Every bit of creativity on that disc came from the original D.I.Y. babe, right down to the engineering. For Knuckle Down, Ani decided to, as she puts it, “Invite collaboration back into my life.” Not to downplay the contribution of the handful of talented session players here, but it is DiFranco’s bewitching voice and the cadence in which she delivers her poetry that causes both heaven and hell to take notice. The secret is that DiFranco creates the illusion of being able to deal with any shade of emotion eloquently; even when she loses her cool she is cool. If you’re going to take time out to live vicariously for an hour or so, you could do a lot worse than shape-shifting into any of Ani’s characters. 

The power of DiFranco’s voice is perfectly illustrated on “Parameters.” The spoken word piece musically features only a mantra of harmonic notes played on electric guitar by Tony Scherr; a haunting background for DiFranco to ruminate on “fistfuls of teenage nightmares” and “a series of suspicious sounds.” The piece lets her sense of humor come through too, cloaked in the self-deprecating lyric, “And not once do you come home to find a man sitting in your bedroom that is a man you don’t know who came a long way to deliver one very specific message: lock your back door, you idiot!” Andrew Bird (violin) and Patrick Warren (piano) help to create a fitting dirge effect for “Callous,” a song ostensibly about being on the short leg of a lover’s triangle. And even though grandma has heard it all long ago, this one may cause her to spit her chamomile all over the settee as DiFranco sings, “You can’t will yourself happy/You can’t will your c*** wet.” Ani isn’t trying to dis-empower or legitimize use of the forbidden “C” word; she’s just telling it like it is, something she has an amazing knack for. Like all of her work, Knuckle Down can be a little intimidating if analyzed too much and is best played while experiencing that special mood that only an individual recognizes. Julie Wolf, Niki Harris, Noe Venable, Jay Bellerose and Todd Sickafoose also guest.

CD Info 

Ani DiFranco - Knuckle Down
Label: Righteous Babe
Release Date: 1/25/05
Knuckle Down
Studying Stones
Sunday Morning
Seeing Eye Dog
Lag Time
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