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Ani DiFranco

Knuckle Down (Righteous Babe)

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As the object of a growing post-feminist/ humanist cult, singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco has been good for at least one album every year since 1990 -- though she hasn't been good for a good album since 1997's double-live Living in Clip. Her 15th LP, Knuckle Down, is nearly identical to last year's Educated Guess, an unplugged one-woman disc that's better than the five albums that preceded it, but still nowhere close to 1993's ecstatic Puddle Dive, 1995's naked Not a Pretty Girl, or 1996's electric Dilate.

Since those classics, the sprite has been around the world a few times, ended a marriage, and moved on with her life. "Thirty-three years go by, and you loosen the momentum of teenage nightmares," she exhales in the spoken-word "Parameters," lamenting the predictability that comes with age. For the first time, she brings a co-producer to the affair, but songwriter Joe Henry's contributions are unclear. Strings, piano, and beats flesh out DiFranco's acoustic drone, but the subliminal embellishment isn't enough to give the disc a pulse.

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