Whoops, she did it again

Ani DiFranco’s latest release imparts another dose of tough-girl wisdom

Katrina Wilber

Sometimes, it’s lonely when you play by yourself.

Ani DiFranco did it all on her last album, “Educated Guess” – she played all the instruments, recorded all the tracks and even sang backup for herself.

This time around, though, she’s let the other children come out to play.

She’s got Joe Henry, a performer/songwriter with nine solo discs to his credit, on board this time. She’s got eight musicians, both vocalists and instrumentalists, doing backup for her, too.

Seems like DiFranco can do no wrong.

DiFranco usually mixes it up – keeps us guessing with her political and personal songs, her spoken and sung songs. This one, though, delves more into the personal side of truly sung songs.

She draws us deep inside her life with “Manhole,” a song she called “just another bitter little song,” according to a Chicago reviewer.

Yes, she’s bitter. Yes, she’s angry. But she uses music as a catharsis, a means to expel the pent-up emotions that build and build and build.

“Manhole” is an epiphany. She snarls and spits out the first set of lyrics, but her tone gets softer and softer, and by the time she gets to the last line – “I looked up to see integrity finally won over desire” – the sweet sound of a slight, almost-forgiving whisper is all that’s left.

“Knuckle Down” has a sharper edge to it than “Educated Guess” did. Sometimes, the lyrics are so venomous, the voice so full of accusation, that DiFranco’s downright scary.

But being subtle also works. She pricks her antagonist with a thousand tiny needles instead of one jab with a dagger, making smaller wounds that hurt deeper and bleed longer.

Whether alone or with a half-dozen musicians backing the singer up, DiFranco’s voice and guitar both gently and forcefully grab hold of the ear and don’t let go.

That certainly isn’t a bad thing.