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Singer stays busy with dual career

Thursday, February 24, 2005

She got a little help from her friends this time, which is something new.
When it comes to independent singer/songwriters, the story begins and ends with Ani DiFranco. Fiercely autonomous for over a decade, this Buffalo, New York native has set the indie benchmark high by creating her own record label (Righteous Babe), now home to various other artists, and maintaining her unique rock-meets-folk-meets-hip-hop blend.
However, change is good for most artists, which is why DiFranco decided to mix things up for the recording of her newest album "Knuckle Down." Not only is the disc co-produced -- a first for Ani -- with singer/songwriter Joe Henry, but she left behind her upstate New York recording studio for the West Coast.
"Interesting was the diplomatic word, Los Angeles being one of my least favorite places," said DiFranco calling from Buffalo. "It's not an indigenous environment for somebody like me. I kind of prefer to make records in places where I feel more at home but half of the band is from California, so it just made sense. L.A. kind of represents all kinds of worlds that I have lived outside of. It's certainly a hub of the music industry. And yeah, just commercialism and surface-ism."
While recorded in the City of Angels, "Knuckle Down" is anything but sunny and laidback. It is typical fare for DiFranco, who marks her 13th studio album with her quintessential diatribe-like vocal displays and boisterous acoustic guitar work, with experimental forays down previously un-traveled paths.
Rarely obvious
Such is the case on new track "Studying Stones," which incorporates strings instead of horns. She felt the move was obvious. But to be fair, DiFranco is rarely obvious or overt. From her rough start beginning as a one-woman touring show to the breakout success of 1996's "Dilate," which debuted in the Top 100, DiFranco has remained steadfast in her vision, her business and, most recently, her politics.
During last fall's presidential campaign, the opinionated DiFranco mounted a "Vote Dammit Tour" that attempted to promote voter registration and voter turnout. Perhaps on the surface one would expect DiFranco to be miffed or angry at the results of last Nov. 2, but the perceptive artist offers a different take regarding the entire experience. "The idea is we must vote and participate in order to have a democracy," DiFranco said. "My life and work didn't hinge on that election. It was interesting after the shock of Nov. 2 dissipated and we began to talk about what the hell just happened, a lot of people were asking me what do you do now? And I think, well, the same thing I did last week. The fight for justice and peace and participation in our democracy continues."
On the road
Also continuing is DiFranco's penchant for an incessant touring schedule, including a March 2 show at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium. Joining her on stage will be longtime musical partner/bassist Todd Sickafoose and Righteous Babe artist/violinist Andrew Bird.
As busy as DiFranco's recording career is, just imagine her duties as Righteous Babe owner.
"It's just the nature of making your own path, to encounter hurdles and then find a way around them or over them," DiFranco said. "Again, talking about Righteous Babe, about being something bigger than me or grown beyond just me and my work, it's not getting any easier. That's for sure. The power in the music industry consolidates and there are more and more corporately controlled venues, radio stations, record stores. So, to still be trying to live in this world, there is certainly a feeling of constriction and it's a harder and harder fight. You have to be the exception to the rule every day."