One Track Mind: Ani DiFranco, "Which Side Are You On? (2012)

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Bruce Springsteen underscored the power and sweep of songs associated with Pete Seeger a few years back. Ani DiFranco, in the title track from her forthcoming new album, goes one step further.

DiFranco doesn’t just echo the original hit single by Seeger, written in the 1930s by the wife of Kentucky union organizer Sam Reece, she’s added a fresh new perspective by turning her sharp eye (and even sharper wit) on the scoundrels, liars and cheats who helped along our latest economic disaster through a series of updated lyrics.

Fittingly, “Which Side Are You On?” begins on the studio version with a bit of dust-bowl poignancy, but not for long: Soon DiFranco has hit an on-ramp of biting, this-just-in criticism. I was struck, though, with how the song moves beyond simple castigation of the politicians, bankers and such. DiFranco seems to be pointedly asking members of the populace what we could have done to help prevent this — and, more importantly, to make sure it never happens again.

“Come one, come all, voters … let’s all vote next time,” DiFranco sings, joined by Seeger himself on banjo and vocals as well as the Rivertown Kids, a Hudson Valley-based children’s chorus; and the Roots of Music Marching Crusaders, a brass band culled from an educational program for at-risk middle-school students in New Orleans. “Show ’em which side are you on now — which side are you on …”

In that repeated phrase (which side are you on?) DiFranco makes her most lasting impression here, and her most involving call to action, whatever your political stripe. It’s a timely message in this age of renewed interest in peaceful protest and community organizing — and one of lasting resonance, whatever the employment rate.

You’ve got to get involved to make a difference. It was just as true in Seeger’s age as it is in this one.

Ani DiFranco’s latest release ¿Which Side Are You On,? her first in more than three years, is due January 17 via the Grammy-winning artist’s own Righteous Babe Records on January 17, 2012. The album also features guest appearances by Ivan and Cyril Neville of New Orleans’ Neville Brothers, avant-saxophonist Skerik (Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, The Meters), singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, guitarist Adam Levy (Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Amos Lee), and a host of New Orleans-based horn players known for their work in such outfits as Galactic, Bonerama and the Rebirth Brass Band.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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