Prolificacy cuts both ways, often resulting in a dilution of power and focus. Such has been my beef with DiFranco's studio releases since she blew me away opening for Dylan in 1998. So imagine how good it feels to tell you that you can listen to Knuckle Down without skipping multiple tracks, the exercise done most on evolve, educated guess and the muddled, meandering though oft-times brilliant Revelling/Reckoning.
There is so much on Ani's latest dispatch where Ani is all she is - the coiled, literate hope of devotees everywhere - that to pick one, two, three or four songs to gush about is oddly akin to skipping tracks and playing faves that I mentioned in a less fashionable light in my previous paragraph.
But a pundit's life is full of compromise and prattfalls, something Knuckle Down is not. So start from the taut, twisting title tune ("I swear some stuff you just see better from better away") and let DiFranco steer you through the languid dysfunction of Studying Stones into the crackling Manhole. The remarkably pretty snapshot of satisfied lovers on Sunday Morning slides through Modulation into the blues of Seeing Eye Dog; the patented, funky folk of Lag Time and the striking, spoken word Parameters and boldly forward.
For the first time in her spiky, independent life, DiFranco works with a co-producer and Joe Henry brings out her best. Add Todd Sickafoose on bass, Julie Wolf -melodica, label-mate Andrew Bird - violin, glockenspiel, Jay Bellerose- drums, percussion and others and 'Knuckle Down' becomes what we have all hoped for: DiFranco's strongest and most cohesive disc in a good long while.
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