Nobody picks up an Ani DiFranco album because they ride the fence politically. The openly bisexual feminist icon has made a career out of her fearless commentary-ridden folk songs.
After a year centered around protest, her revolution-fueled record seems right on time. In the midst of a world turned on its side by political rebellion, DiFranco has provided theme songs for the revolution. Many of the tracks off of new record Which Side Are You On? reflect the sentiments of those protesting the misdistribution of wealth and power on Wall Street and across the country.
The record opens with the heartbreaking “Life Boat,” a musically simplistic track about an impoverished woman’s struggle through life on the cold and cruel streets. DiFranco brings this all-too-real situation to life with striking imagery juxtaposed against rather simple guitar work .
Another bright point on the record is her cover of Pete Seeger’s famous protest song “Which Side Are You On?“ Are you part of the solution or are you part of the con?” Seeger himself joins her on banjo and backup vocals. This complete rewrite adds fullness to the original song; it features pounding drums and lyrics that could empower even the most indifferent listener with its commentary on the United States’ current economic situation, racial tension and women’s rights.
But DiFranco’s opinion-laden lyrics often grow preachy. Even as someone who identifies as a feminist, it was difficult for me to get my feet tapping to the message-driven “Anthem,” where DiFranco sings “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have an abortion.” Some messages are better suited for a political rally than the second half of a folk record. But DiFranco dares to say what no one else will. Her courageous approach to the protest song has kept her career alive for two decades. But Which Side Are You On? is more than a jumble of protest songs. Songs about love and relationships such as “Mariachi” and “Promiscuity” enliven the record and tie it all back to DiFranco’s personal life.
But on an album created to inspire change, little about DiFranco’s music has. The folksinger’s rhythmic, powerful vocals over simple guitar patterns ring the same way they did on her self-titled release that started off her career back in 1990.
Despite the recurring themes, DiFranco’s strong opinions remain fresh. Considering the current political climate, she is more relevant than ever. In the chaos of global protest, DiFranco’s voice manages to make itself heard, and it’s certainly one that’s worth listening to.