Duty requires me to mention that Ani DiFranco has a new album, Knuckle Down (Righteous Babe), though if you don’t already own it you never will. DiFranco herself is obviously aware that only cultists feel compelled to check in on each collection of first-day-of-the-rest-of-Ani’s-life musings, so she’s billing Knuckle Down as a group effort: the half dozen or so guest musicians include Todd Sickafoose on bass, Patrick Warren on keyboards, and opening act Andrew Bird on violin and glockenspiel. Joe Henry coproduced the album, and he makes a slight difference, fitting DiFranco’s idiosyncratic pluck-pluck-strum into marginally more precise arrangements. But the real difference is in her lyrics. Purged of the personal-is-political showboating she came up on, they’re surprisingly subtle–on the title track, for instance, DiFranco lets listeners connect her images about aging rather than hammering down a moral in the last stanza. And when she does finally drop a “fuck it” on “Seeing Eye Dog,” it feels like she needed a rhyme for “bucket,” rather than vice versa. Even on “Parameters,” where the vocals are practically ambient, a sharp phrase peeps out of the quiet two-chord vamp: “Sitting there on what must be the prize chair / In your collection of uncomfortable chairs.” The downside to DiFranco’s maturation is that showboating can be fun–it’s one reason we started paying attention to her in the first place, and why these ruminations will work better when they’re integrated into her stage patter, where she can’t contain her hamminess. Sat 2/26, 8 PM, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 312-922-2110 or 312-902-1500, sold out. See also Sunday.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Danny Clinch.