For the first time in a career with many highlights (including recordings with Steve Earle and Ron Sexsmith), Egge gave herself over to a collaborative process, working with Danish indie band The Sentimentals to write and record the songs on “Say That Now” in Copenhagen. Egge’s signature blend of American prairie folk mixed with clarion-call country shines through. On “Promises to Break,” their combined voices rise in glorious church-steeple harmony. It’s a song Egge and Hansen wrote together that speaks to the universality of forbidden love: “On my shoulder’s my hometown I’m trying to escape / On my hand is the number for calling your name / It’s a matter of leaving before my lies come true / Before my hometown finds out about you.” Hansen’s subsequent song “He’s a Killer Now” is a heart-rending meditation on the kind of terrorism currently gripping Europe, looking at the tragic deaths in a 2015 Danish shooting from a mother’s perspective. “Away We Go Again” is Egge’s attempt to grapple with the shock of Michael Brown’s tragic death and the Ferguson protests. With good friends and loving family around them, Ana Egge & The Sentimentals found the space to create an album that looks both inward to the human journey and outward to the communities we build to survive this trip.
Ana Egge casts a bright shadow
“We were always the outsiders,” says folk songwriter ANA EGGE of her early roots in a small North Dakota town of 50 people. “I was taught how to shoot a gun and how to enjoy alfalfa sprouts and tofu, raised by two back-to-the-land hippies. My folks loved the outdoors and eccentric people; I ran around barefoot and learned to ride a motorcycle when I was 5. I grew up with all the time and space in the world.” Egge has since traded the openness of the American Plains for the untamable wilderness of New York City, recorded seven albums, and worked with musical legends such as Ron Sexsmith and Steve Earle. She’s been around the horn of life’s experiences, having gotten married and become a mother, but that childhood spirit of freedom has matured on her latest album, BRIGHT SHADOW. Self-produced by Egge herself, Bright Shadow is a direct collaboration with acclaimed American roots trio, Yep Roc recording artists THE STRAY BIRDS – Maya De Vitry (fiddle, banjo, vocals), Charles Muench (upright bass, vocals), and Oliver Craven (mandolin, fiddle, slide guitar, vocals) – who join Egge as her band on the album. “They were fans of my last album (2011’s Steve Earle-produced, Bad Blood) and approached me about backing me up at Folk Alliance in Toronto 2012. There was an immediate affinity between us and the music just flowed.” The sound also marks a return to the kind of music she fell in love with first as a teenager playing in her high school bluegrass band, and listening to artists like Iris Dement on cassettes. “Acoustic instruments played in a circle with everyone singing. I had The Stray Birds very much in mind while writing and arranging these songs. Their strengths and personalities shine! We had so much fun in the studio.” As for Egge herself, the power of her voice lies in its ability to be at once haunting and comforting, possessing the otherworldly vocal quality of Emmylou Harris and the dark sweetness of Aimee Mann with a smooth effortlessness all Egge’s own.
Since recording Bright Shadow, Egge’s daughter was born and her mother died, and in retrospect, she says, the songs on the album mirror these intense and formative life changes. With a deeply supportive marriage to her wife of seven years, Egge felt for the first time that she could feel comfortable being beautiful on stage. “That might sound strange but it’s true,” she says. “After having our baby I felt the same kind of personal permission arise in me about being able to be comforting, giving, and sweetly mellow. On Bad Blood I was working through intense issues I’d been hiding from writing about for years, but with Bright Shadow I found myself beyond this trying or not trying. It’s spiritual and warm and life confirming.” While on her previous album Egge sang, “We are fools to work against the wind,” on Bright Shadow that sentiment has matured into a recognition of freedom and resolve. “I hitched a ride with the wind, and since he was my friend, I just let him decide where we’d go,” she sings on her cover of Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers,” continuing: “When a flower grows wild, it can always survive. Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.” On BRIGHT SHADOW, Ana Egge reveals remarkable growth, as an artist and a person, recognizing that freedom comes less from fighting the current of the wind, but from being able to yield and follow. She offers her story to the American roots music tradition, an outsider, a wildflower, comfortable in her own skin. BRIGHT SHADOW is an album that feels at once unique and universal, a hard-learned meditation that, while the darkness can be true, the shadow is proof that the light exists.