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Which Side Are You On?
A timely return to the fray from the voice of conscience.
Colm O Hare, 18 Jan 2012
Ani DiFranco has long been a trailblazer and radical voice in music, never afraid to mix sexual politics and environmental concerns with affairs of the heart. Having brilliantly paved the way for a generation of independent female singer-songwriters, she continues to fight the good fight, but with just a hint of mellowness entering her writing.
Her 17th studio album, and first in three years, Which Side Are You On? reflects on both the personal and the political. It is fully in tune with the times, but it is also a fascinating reflection of her own state of mind.
The title track is the workers’ rights ballad made famous by folk legend Pete Seeger (who guests here on banjo.) Though not as instantly compelling as Natalie Merchant’s near-definitive version of a few years back, DiFranco’s reading is more aggressive and insistent in tone, underpinned with a martial beat and DiFranco’s characteristic sense of defiance.
Elsewhere, she picks her subject matter with seeming abandon, spicing it with wry humour where she can, as on ‘J’ in which, over a taut reggae rhythm, she points the finger at the growth in prescription medication while her own substance of choice is restricted: “Can’t sit on my porch and smoke J… while all night long are a bunch of pushers selling drugs on my TV”. Embracing the ageing process she declares that, “If you’re not getting happier as you get older – you’re fucked up” (‘If Yr Not’), while ‘Promiscuity,’ she states is, “Nothing more than travelling – and there’s more than one way to see the world.” Meanwhile, on ‘Zoo’ she bemoans that, “I can no longer watch TV because that shit really melts my brain.”
The real highlights, however, are the more plaintive, low-key numbers mainly featuring her distinctive finger-picked acoustic guitar stylings, and wonderful vocals, including the gorgeous ‘Albacore’, in which she sings of domestic bliss and happiness. “Now I have no doubt and I never will, that I was meant to be loving you,” she declares. And despite the sombre title, the poignant ‘Hearse’ finds her contemplating love in the afterlife thus: “We’ll be pushing up daisies/ and my crush will still be getting worse.”