Ani DiFranco is the Anti-Ke$ha. She basically invented her own genre, created her own record label, and Which Side Are You On? is the 17th such studio album on Righteous Babe Records. With a voice and viewpoint desperately needed in society, while embracing a sound and "package" almost completely unappealing to the mainstream, it's a weird dichotomy within one act, giving her more in common with Marilyn Manson than Sarah McLachlan.
This album features all sorts of hard-hitting songs, cushioned by the laissez-faire playing style of a veteran performer. Before I say anything, the song "Amendment" features my favorite lyric of 2012: "If you don't like abortion, then don't have an abortion." That song echoes many others in a tone of protest and common sense. The title track shows this off, as well as some banjo work from Pete Seeger, helping out on a revamped version of his hit "Which Side Are You On," a song covered by everyone from Natalie Merchant to Dropkick Murphys. DiFranco's balance of political advocate and humanist genius is what makes her so appealing on this record.
Other stand-outs include "J," a semi-reggae tale of a concerned citizen smoking a joint on her porch, contemplating the various other drugs that are now in her water supply. Add in an Obama critique and the virtues of buying local and you've got the pieces of a well-formed song, followed up by the equally inspiring and genuinely soulful "If yr Not." With lyrics like "If you're not getting happier as you get older, then you're fucking up," DiFranco's confidence shines louder than her string plucking, something understated about the feminist icon.
The harrowing "Hearse" gives a romantic touch to loss of life, with celebration the focus rather than remorse: "I will always be your lover, even after our atoms are dispersed. We'll be pushing up daisies, and my crush will just be getting' worse."
Her voice is as effective as ever, as age has given her more control and polish than wear and tear, not just in tone, but in language. She sounds way less like a crazy hippie and much more like a genius cleric. Maybe she always has and we never got it. Either way, DiFranco has put together another collection of songs that outclass her peers through and through, but will sell a fraction of a fraction of the rest of the market. She may go down as a more prolific female version of Tom Waits, at least from a songwriting and "soul" level, and this album might help her grab a few new listeners.
Youtube clip for "J"
Sneak Peak of the entire album
Other standout tracks: "Which Side Are You On? (feat Pete Seger)," "Splinter" and "Albacore."