Ani DiFranco may have a reputation as a confrontational folk firebrand, but for all its sociopolitical savvy, her new album, Red Letter Year, is also fueled by domestic bliss. The Buffalo-born troubadour makes her home in New Orleans these days, where she recorded the album with her "co-producer/babydaddy" Mike Napolitano. "He's the reason the album sounds so good," she surmises. "I would plug in the guitar and say, 'Let's go!' and he would say, 'No, let's get a better guitar sound!' I just don't have enough focus to attend to details like that."
Her attention's been all the more divided since the arrival of daughter Petah last year. "It took me a lot longer to make [this album] than usual, because I had to take care of a kid," she says. "Which is great, it makes for better records. Conversely, she gives me a lot of new things to think about, and teaches me stuff I wouldn't have found out otherwise, so in that sense she's inspirational." DiFranco feels that the family vibe permeates Red Letter Year. "I think there's a lot of the energy of the love that made her, my love for Mike, and the peace he's brought to my life."
The fiercely independent DiFranco, who launched her own label nearly 20 years ago to distribute her music, isn't particularly concerned about putting out new work in the current economic climate. "Because of my independence I had to build my audience based on live shows, as opposed to the marketing muscle of a major label. Touring is once again my bread and butter, and at least I still have a job," she says. But DiFranco feels a balance must be struck in the digital music community. "Music sharing is essential to a degree, but there must be a way for artists to own their work and get paid for it. I don't think artists have to have a stranglehold on controlling their work, but I think they need to have a healthy control so they can survive."
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