Knuckle Down

The 13th album from Buffalo, NY's most successful export in fiercely-independent music marks a promising return to form for DiFranco with a richly-textured collection of songs. Knuckle Down marks the first time that she's worked with a producer other than herself. For this move, she tapped the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Joe Henry. And it's turned out to be a very positive progression.

Her 2003 album Educated Guess was Ani and Ani alone, with no assistance from anyone and nary even an engineer to press the record button. Though this "flying solo" recording style is increasingly popular these days (due to cheap and widely-available advances technology), the results for DiFranco was like a musical house of mirrors. Her songs sounded fractured and distorted in uncomplimentary ways, trapped in endless navel-gazing, as if she was striving for a new direction without any sort of constructive feedback.

By contrast, however, the sound of Knuckle Down is much more listenable. The musical arrangements are more buoyant and the texture is not so monochromatic.

Of course, the lyrics are as challenging as ever, especially so considering the breakup of her marriage. Her song "Sunday Morning," as an example, is a tender kaleidoscope of domestic memories with images which seem a little startling in an Ani DiFranco song, particularly since recent albums have been so unrelentingly stark and bleak: "kitties swarming/around our feet/life comes easy/your sweet company/making it so complete." Of course, the whole denouement, stateing, "of all the exorcisms/I've done with your ghosts/still it's Sunday morning/I miss you the most."

Striking a middle ground between the gritty solitary folkie approach and the fusion-affectations of her "turn-of-the-century" sound, Knuckle Down marks welcome change for this remarkable and unique musical talent.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director