Ani DiFranco has always been what you might call the ultimate solo artist. She not only writes and sings her own material, she has always put out her own albums, produced them herself, and turned them into a success story large enough to become the poster girl for the DIY set. Her latest release “Knuckle Down”, on her own Righteous Babe imprint, of course, finds DiFranco for the first time recording with a co-producer and allowing a sharing of ideas that has never existed before in her world. Songwriter Joe Henry is her partner in crime this time out and she specifically wrote songs with their collaborative efforts in mind. The end result of this pairing is one of DiFranco’s best records to date. “Knuckle Down” encompasses urban folk, spoken word, mutated blues, and more, all filtered though Ani’s creative soul.
The music created here with co-producer Henry and a fine supporting cast of musicians that includes bassist Todd Sickafoose and violinist Andrew Bird is as good as anything DiFranco has done in the past, if not slightly better. Her songs are like books set to music and acquire deeper levels of meaning with each successive listen. High points include “Knuckle Down”, “Studying Stones”, and the spoken-word “Parameters”. DiFranco has made an outstanding record by allowing others to help shape her sound and vision, taking her work to a new level of listenability. “Knuckle Down” is good stuff for the faithful and a great place for new fans to get onboard.