I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the release of Ani DiFranco’s seventeenth studio album. The self-described “little folk singer” hadn’t released a studio album in more than three years and I was starting to worry that workaholic “Mister DiFranco” had traded her guitar for a pipe and slippers. Thankfully this wasn’t the case, and after listening to the first thirty seconds of the album, I was giddy with nostalgia.
DiFranco is still unafraid to broach topics that the majority of mainstream artists runaway screaming from. Her lyrics wipe away the delusion of “real life” that many popular artists work to promote through their normalisation of misogynistic sentiments through a separation of the personal and political. DiFranco has a wonderful knack of rotating the mind’s kaleidoscope – she shifts your considerations of a complex political debate with a simple lyric delivered with a wink and smile.
Although DiFranco’s approach is fundamentally unchanged, it is obvious that her personal life has evolved. She is no longer the promiscuous, green-haired 22-year-old she once was, and the tone of the album reflects the ways in which she has found stability in her relationships. DiFranco makes a point of telling us that she has finally found love and happiness through her husband and daughter, but makes sure to underline that this “normality” has not pushed her into either political complacency, nor regret over her former lifestyle. This is especially evident on the fifth track ‘Promiscuity’ in which she repeats the words “how you gonna know what you need, what you like/til you been around the block a few times on that bike?” DiFranco presents an attractive version of promiscuity that is not self-destructive nor exploitive of others, but is intead, “research and development”. Although the musical accompaniment is unimaginative, its stripped down nature allows the discussion of sexuality to take the spotlight which isn’t a bad thing.
The most hyped track, ‘Which Side Are You On?’ is a cover of folk singer, Pete Seeger’s popular protest song of the early 1940’s: Seeger himself plays the banjo on this contemporary re-make. The collaboration was agreed after Seeger invited DiFranco to perform at his 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in 2009. The song opens with the traditional sounds of Seeger’s banjo with DiFranco soon stealing the show when joining Seeger onstage with her electric guitar and rousing vocals.
The concept and energy of this spirited track certainly deserves the honour of the album’s title although it is the tracks that DiFranco has dedicated less attention to that actually create the most excitement. ‘Which Side Are You On?’ cannot compete with the simple beauty of ‘Unworry’, in which the bouncy, pop sound is complimented with the romantic story of two unruly individuals working to create a peaceful relationship. DiFranco manages to make this story endearing rather than cheesy, perhaps through lyrics such as “let’s only ever be allies even if the whole background dissolves”, which acknowledge that romantic love is not unchanging and requires maintenance.