Ana Egge
Ana Egge
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Ana Egge & the Sentimentals,
Say That Now
(Grace/Sentimental Music, 2016)

A cynical British music journalist once remarked, with notably ill humor, that the day is soon coming when every American will be declared a singer-songwriter at birth. I know what he meant. There is undeniably a larger supply of singer-songwriters than the world requires. A goodly portion, who don’t seem much interested in any music beyond their own, betray no discernible knowledge of any but other singer-songwriters. Nor do they have much to say that hasn’t already been said, and better, elsewhere.

Of course there are exceptions, whom I always feel obliged to cite when I get off on an irritable rant like this one. I’ll resist the temptation here, though. You can supply the names yourself, of the ones who’ve been around and are still welcome on stages and in studios, plus the occasional fresh faces. While usually I am hesitant to add names to that august company, I can happily report that Ana Egge and Coty Hogue carry the craft honorably. They have talent, brains, imagination and a solid modernist grounding in the folk tradition, which as Dylan has observed is essential to any would-be composer who picks up a guitar and seeks to write original material. Better than anybody, those old-timers knew how to create a song and tell a story.

Brooklyn-based but Saskatchewan- and North Dakota-bred, Ana Egge has been around for a while, but I caught up with her relatively recently, when I reviewed her previous release, Bright Shadow (Rambles.NET, 12 September 2015). That one was pretty good. Say It Now is even better, at least in part because it was recorded with the Sentimentals, an exceptional folk-rock trio from Denmark where the album was cut. But there are other virtues, such as Egge’s affecting, cut-to-the-heart vocals and her sure-handed, grown-up writing. And then there are those marvelous melodies that lure the listener into repeated listenings.

Six of the 11 songs are co-writes, and another is the sole creation of Sentimental M.C. Hansen, the outstanding “The Girl from the Banks of the Ohio,” which Egge sings in a compelling interpretation. Though the title may lead you to expect that it concerns the female victim in the classic murder ballad, it draws on the tradition of songs, ubiquitous in nations that border oceans, about separation of sailor from true love. “Away We Go,” which Egge penned with David Moss, eloquently evokes the ambiguities of this American moment. Hansen himself sings the co-write “Still Waters Run Deep”; the title is the only cliche in this dark story-song with something of the flavor of an old North European ballad. Egge and Hansen’s “He’s a Killer Now” takes a searing look at gun violence and its consequences.

Among the CD’s charms is Egge’s way with songs (e.g., “Promises to Break”) that feel country without actually being so, maybe because they’re too smart and too original to be welcome in the Nashville mainstream. An attentive listener will notice that they eschew just about very cliche that underpins relationship songs.