Side Are You On?
Righteous Babe Records
Die-hard Ani fans have much to love about Which Side Are You On?, the artists latest release. Upon first listen, I felt the same connection to this music as I felt when I first heard Dilate (a quintessential DiFranco record—showcasing her acoustic/folk chops as well as her political edge). There's a deep vulnerability at the core of her lyrics, sparked by her sharp intellect and willingness to take a stand for her beliefs without making any apologies. With verses like "They stole a few elections, still, we the people won" in the title track, she also leaves no doubt regarding the side she's on. This is the gritty soulfulness that makes Ani such a fucking rockstar. It's not the fact that she gave the middle finger to major labels years ago, before it was fashionable, and started her own Righteous Babe Records (eventually bringing back the label, and the jobs that came with it to her hometown in Buffalo, New York). It's the ability to express her feelings about everything from motherhood to politics through her music and not alienate the audience while doing so. Plus: Her albums usually sound terrific. So if the words don't move you, the dynamics will. Which Side Are You On is no exception. The record sounds so damn good I brought it down to Dave Clark's house (my editor and dear friend) for one of our listening sessions. I know he's not necessarily a fan of singer/songwriters today, but I knew this music would move him and I think I was right (I'll know soon enough... Uh it - Dave). The record begins with these fantastically textured electric guitars panned left and right, with DiFranco's vocal floating dead center, drawing you in close. She creates a sense of depth, but it feels intimate.
She continues to blend open and airy acoustic sounds effortlessly with provocative thoughts on everything from prescription drug commercials (on the mysteriously entitled "J") to the playful yet obvious theme in "Promiscuity". You can tell when DiFranco is having a good time. You can almost hear her smile on this album. That may sound ridiculous, but it's the only way I can describe it. There's this positive energy that ties everything together, even when she's tackling heavy material. Another engaging characteristic of this record are the sonic contrasts; transitioning from sparse ambient guitar and drum work to full bodied jams. She's always been great with transitions, and while there are no great musical detours on her latest effort, it's easy to listen to from beginning to end. That's more than I can say for the majority of releases being offered today. Many have a handful of decent tracks at most. The rest is pure filler (or should I say fodder). Which Side Are You On has no duds.
It's also a call to action, as many of her albums have been over the years. With challenging verses like "are we gonna make more garbage, or are we gonna make amends" and a chorus asking "which side are you on now, which side are you on" you know DiFranco is determined to get heard as well as make you think. That drive to not merely express her own views, but attempt to make you examine your own, whether they're popular or not, exemplifies the integrity of her work. You feel like she's letting you in, and in return she is asking you to perhaps open yourself up to other ideas and concepts. Whether or not you enjoy her outlook and the way it manifests in her songs, it's plain she believes in what she's doing. What's also obvious is that she cares about her fellow citizens, and their level of involvement in the events that affect their lives. That great sense of identity and belonging is contagious. Just like some of the great singer/songwriters that came before her (think Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell) Ani has a keen ability to capture both the angst and the hope of her generation. That is one of the many reasons DiFranco has built an arsenal of dedicated fans over the years. Which Side Are You On offers you a glimpse of why they love her so much. As a proud member of that arsenal I urge you to give this album a listen. DiFranco claims (on another verse from the record): "We ain't gonna stop now, until the job is done" and I for one hope her job never ends. Her music has aged like fine wine. Check out her latest vintage and I'm fairly certain you won't be disappointed.