Ani Knuckles Down
Ani Difranco has stepped back into the studio for her latest album. For any other artist this might not be surprising, but for Difranco recording in a professional studio instead of her home-made one is a change, and gives Knuckle Down a different feel than her last completely solo, self-recorded, and self-produced album: Educated Guess.Difranco welcomes guest performers again, which creates a fuller sound. But most notable about Knuckle Down is the co-producing of fellow musician Joe Henry, something Difranco has never done. The production works well despite being only partly Difranco’s, and it’s apparent that her readiness to collaborate once again is a step in the right direction.
String instruments are prevalent, changing the sound slightly from the horn accompaniment used in the past. Violin and piano lighten the melodies, but the mood is as pensive as ever. The fast-paced title track “Knuckle Down,” somber “Parameters,” and visceral “Callous” are classic Difranco. “Studying Stones” is a good example of the use of strings on the album, creating a different folk feel than the singer-songwriter-with-guitar dynamic. While not overtly political, “Paradigm” still showcases some of Difranco’s recent thoughts on politics, and “Seeing Eye Dog” is satisfyingly bluesy. The album ends on “Recoil,” a feel-good song that comments on the misery of loneliness.
One could say that Difranco has focused well with this latest album, but it is apparent from Knuckle’s overall theme. Given her personal trials and temporary self-imposed professional solitude, she has risen to the challenge of successful collaboration with other artists once again. As is usually the case, in just another year, we will see where her next album takes her.