Classic Rock Magazine- UK
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Album review: “Bad Blood”
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, August 31, 2012
Like so many performers inspired by traditional Appalachian laments, Ana Egge takes pleasure in sorrow. “Bad Blood,” the singer-guitarist’s seventh album, is heavy on anguished tales, some of them probably fictional but others clearly autobiographical.
Yet Egge also celebrates simple pleasures in songs such as “Motorcycle,” a gently ecstatic ode to sharing the lonely road with just one other person. “Bad Blood” opens with the raucous electric guitar of “Driving With No Hands” and closes with a version of Charlie Rich’s 1974 hit, “There Won’t Be Anymore,” that shows Egge at her most traditional. In between, the North Dakota-raised, Brooklyn-based performer (and producer Steve Earle) balance contemporary and old-timey: Guitarist Chris Masterson and drummer Rob Heath push the music in a garage-rock direction, while Eleanor Whitmore adds folkie touches on fiddle, mandolin and other instruments.
Heath pounds hard on the title track, one of several first-person accounts of dealing with a mentally ill relative: “I loved you and I hated you / I prayed for you and stayed away from you.” Egge sometimes writes glibly about trouble, notably in “Evil,” a vignette about a murderer. But most of these songs are admirably forthright, regardless of whether Egge candidly expresses delight or despair.
Born in Saskatchewan, raised in North Dakota and New Mexico and now based in Brooklyn, Ana Egge has seen her share of the world.
Halifax is part of that equation too. She’s made frequent trips here to perform and work with friends like Rose Cousins and Joel Plaskett, who even brought her along to perform in front of tens of thousands of people when he opened for Paul McCartney on the Halifax Commons.
On Tuesday, the willowy blond singer performs in Halifax, in much more intimate surroundings, at The Carleton Music Bar & Grill with Breagh MacKinnon as part of Argyle Street’s Halifax Urban Folk Festival.
The week-long event kicks off Sunday at the Carleton with the Constantines’ Bry Webb and Attack in Black’s Daniel Romano, and a full schedule, with performers like Willie Nile, Elliott Murphy and Steve Poltz.
Making her festival debut, Egge has an impressive new batch of songs under her belt, as contained in her new Steve Earle-produced album Bad Blood. It was recorded at Levon Helm’s barn studio in Woodstock, N.Y.
More than just a collection of her latest compositions, the album charts a personal journey through both sides of the issue of dealing with mental illness in loved ones, watching while they’re “breaking branches off the family tree,” as she sings in one song, but also offering hope that they’ll come through the other side of this soul-wrenching turmoil.
“There’s an interesting juxtoposition between the lilting, upbeat quality of the melodies and the feel of the songs and the content of the lyrics,” Egge says of Bad Blood’s balance between light and dark.
“It was weird to be playing them as folk songs on my guitar as I was writing them. It just felt so strange.
“But then when you put them with the band, and you’ve got this sort of push behind the music, and the fiddle dragging it, it made total sense.”
Having long favoured songs about outsiders and people on the fringe, Egge feels it was only a matter of time before she explored the situations faced by her own family members and friends while trying to broaden her own understanding of their suffering through her craft.
“I’m very aware that it’s the disease, not the person. That’s a challenge to live with, and help them come to terms with to, so they can live through it, medicate, and stay healthy,” she says.
“If they start to think they’re a bad person, it’s just going to get worse from there. Separating that from the identity is really important, and writing about the subject matter, I basically did the same thing. I took the disease and separated it from my loved ones and realized I could really let myself be angry. ‘How could you take this person over like this?’ That really freed up the writing a lot.”
Egge experienced another kind of freedom in the studio, by handing the reins over to Earle, whom she first met when she sang on Ron Sexsmith’s Blue Boy album.
At the time, they hit it off right away, but she didn’t think about working with the bearded roots music guru until now “because the songs were so intense and personal, and I felt like I was treading this line where I didn’t want to be the one that was directing what was going on,” says Egge, who knew that few musicians understand personal demons better than Earle, who was also perfect to capture the earthy, acoustic feel she was after.
“He didn’t want the sessions to leave the studio in those five days. We did everything live, with a couple of harmony vocals and fiddle parts overdubbed, but basically it was everyone playing at once, on the floor, with Steve in the centre of the circle like a ringmaster, pointing at everybody.
“It was pretty amazing.”
For a few free Bad Blood samples, visit www.anaegge.com.
Pure-voiced, outstanding guitar player and evocative songwriter, Brooklyn-based Ana Egge, now onto her seventh album, has certainly come up with something very profound and original here. The keynote of most of the songs on this collection is the severe problems caused by mental illness within close family, something Egge has had to cope with pretty well all her life. She wanted to put it out in bluegrass style that was until producer and country rebel Steve Earle piled in a thumping drumbeat on most of the tracks which it has to be said works really well.The opener ‘Driving With No Hands’ sets the scene describing destructive mood swings: ‘when I wake up … will I wake up?’ and the tone doesn’t change too much with the next two songs ‘Hole In Your Halo’ and the title track, all complete with some brutal guitar chords and menacing strings. Steve Earle says it far better than I can: ‘Ana Egge’s songs are low and lonesome, big, square noir ballads which she plays on a guitar built with her own two hands and sings like she’s telling us her deepest darkest secrets.’‘Evil’ is another utterly enthralling track telling of a man compulsively driven to the ultimate crime but unable to live with the guilt that follows. The tone does change for several of the later tracks. ‘Motor Cycle’ is a song in praise of the freedom that pastime brings and Egge’s personal experience and enjoyment is evident. I must also commend ‘Silver Heels’ a graphic song dedicated to the ladies of the night on the high plains of Colorado, ‘Your Voice Convinces Me’ with vocal backing from Earle and wife Alison Moorer and Ana’s fine rendition of Charlie Rich’s out and out country ‘There Won’t Be Anymore’ which is the closing track.No less authority than Lucinda Williams has called Ana Egge: ‘an exceptional songwriter—the Nina Simone of folk.’ One day Egge will make it really big and maybe her career path will follow that of Williams who was producing superb albums for nigh on twenty years before CAR WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD really awakened everyone to her talents. There again the very courageous BAD BLOOD may just do it for her, I certainly hope so. Paul Collins www.anaegge.com
The shows on the road since SXSW have been a backroads-shining diner-country road-main street adventure.
I’m looking forward to playing every Tuesday night in April at The Rockwood Music Hall with my band and working up some new songs, besides a few shows in NJ, CT and The Parkinson’s Unity Walk in Central Park in April. All dates below, I hope to see you soon!
Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | Rockwood Music Hall | New York, NY
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Rockwood Music Hall | New York, NY
Saturday, April 14, 2012 | Northwest Park Nature Center | Windsor, CT
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | Rockwood Music Hall | New York, NY
Saturday, April 21, 2012 | Union County Performing Arts Center | Rahway, NJ
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 | Rockwood Music Hall | New York, NY
Saturday, April 28, 2012 | 72nd Street Bandshell, Central Park | New York City, NY
At the moment I’m packing for my trip to Austin for SXSW. I’ll be keeping busy, so many tacos, so little time. Besides my showcase, I’m playing a day party out on Willie Nelson’s Luck, TX ranch on Thursday afternoon with a bunch of amazing songwriters.. all info below.
See you on down the road,
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When is a Canadian not quite Canadian?
When she’s Americana songwriting folksinger Ana Egge (pronounced Eg-gy), born 35 years ago in Estevan, Saskatchewan, but raised in Ambrose, North Dakota and Silver City, New Mexico.
“I was born in ’76 when it wasn’t automatic — you weren’t automatically deemed Canadian for being born there,” she laments down the line during a break from writing at her Brooklyn, New York home.
“My parents are both American, so I was naturalized American. But I’m about to apply to get dual citizenship. I’m so excited!”
Regardless of her citizenry, Egge should be given the fast track to nationalization for the amount of domestic musical-community service she’s accumulated over 15 years and seven albums.
First, there’s the Ron Sexsmith connection: she covered his “Lebanon,
TN” on her sophomore effort, 1999′s Mile Marker and “Wastin’ Time” on 2007′s Lazy Days. He contributed harmonies to her 2005 albumOut Past the Lights; she to his 2001 Steve Earle-produced chestnutBlue Boy, a project that helped her decide to recruit Earle last summer as overseer of her current album, Bad Blood.
She’s even made good use of Sexsmith’s band, as bassist Jason Mercer produced Out Past the Lights and guitarist extraordinaire Tim Bovaconti has embellished a few of her recordings.
Nova Scotian Joel Plaskett produced a chunk of 2009′s Road to My Love after she contributed harmony to his Three, and also sang on Peter Elkas’ latest Repeat Offender, while Bourbon Tabernacle Choir founder Chris Brown and Be Good Tanyas’ co-founder Frazey Ford have chimed in on Egge albums as session musicians.
Even when she performs a two-night stand at the Dakota Tavern beginning Thursday, her accompanying band will be, as she says, “all Toronto guys” — led by Peter Elkas on guitar with Doug Friesen on bass and Gavin Maguire on drums.
Egge, whose sanguine alto sounds like a teakettle blend of Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Merchant and Kathleen Edwards, will be making her first local appearance to support Bad Blood, a 12-song album that tackles the theme of mental illness and how it’s impacted Egge’s immediate family.
“It wasn’t meant to be that way,” Egge concedes. “It was mostly just dealing with my own feelings about the reality of people I love — my family — dealing with mental illness. I was feeling stuck as a writer, because I didn’t want to make anything harder for anybody, but I came to realize that I had a lot of frustration and anger about the disease, not knowing what to do about it.”
“So I started writing with mental illness itself as the character, and that really set me free.”
“Sun don’t shine/ In the darkness I know,” Egge sings sadly on “Hole in Your Halo,” and whether she performs the strident title track or the mid-tempo rocker “Motorcycle,” she surprised at the chord the subject matter has struck with her audience.
“It’s been really healing,” says Egge of fan reaction. “It’s one of those things that people don’t know how to deal with or talk about . . So it’s been pretty amazing hearing stories and experiences from people who come up to me at shows, and those who reach out to me online. I think they do it just because of that silence that surrounds it.”
Born to hippie parents, Egge spent her first five formative musical years in Austin, Texas, first inspired by the Silver City visits of noted bass player Sarah Brown, the aunt of one of Egge’s friends.
“I’d hear stories of Sarah playing bass with Bonnie Raitt and Antone’s Blues Band, so when she would come to visit I’d pick her brain about everything,” Egge recalls. “After a second visit, Austin became this mythical place, and I could not just wait to go there.
“So I visited once and they let me go into all the music clubs despite the fact that I was underage. That was it: I was moving there as soon as I graduated high school.”
She immediately established musical connections with songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore and western swing band Asleep At The Wheel, whose drummer Dave Sanger produced her 1997 acclaimed debutRiver Under the Road.
Since then, it’s been a succession of folk, country, rock and bluegrass-blended albums on small independent labels, winning over musical fans like Sexsmith, Earle and Lucinda Williams as she continues to make strides in searching for that Americana/folk breakthrough.
As much as she enjoys performing, Egge, who builds her own guitars, says her greatest joy is hearing otherartists like Dave Alvin and U.S. folkies Laurie Lewis and Slaid Cleaves cover her songs.
“It’s such an amazing feeling to finish a song and then know that you love it and want to play it over and over again and share it with people.
“But hearing someone else sing it and play it, it’s great.”
Just the Facts
Who: Ana Egge
Where: Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Ave.
When: Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12 at the door
Ana Egge’s haunting CD captures the feelings of those who have a mentally ill loved one
by Mark Moring
Your picture’s fallin’ like a figurine
Breaking branches in our family tree . . .
I loved you and I hated you
I prayed for you and stayed away from you
So sings Ana Egge on the title cut of her latest album, Bad Blood. Many of the songs were written about coping with mentally ill family members, and I, for one, can certainly relate to the lyrics above.
Our 20-year-old son has bipolar disorder and Asperger syndrome, and his family members have certainly felt all of those things and more. It really can be a love-hate relationship — intense love for the person, but intense hatred for the illness and the ugly, often hurtful, ways it manifests itself. Kudos to Egge for capturing many of those feelings.
A press release says that the album “conveys compassion and hope for redemption,” and while that’s certainly true, Egge also noted in one interview that it also captures her raw emotions. “There is some anger on this record,” she confesses. “When you have family members suffering, I’m not angry at them. I have had a lot of anger at the illness, wanting it to stop, go away. A lot of the writing freed up for me when I started writing about the illness itself as a character.”
Like many of us who love someone with a mental illness, Egge is trying to find that balance between loving the person but loathing the condition. These lines from “Hole in Your Halo” kind of capture that vibe:
Your flowers are growin’ wild in the west
They may be pretty but they’re poisonous
Behind the bars you’re falling apart
It’s not the first time you went too far
There’s a hole in your halo
Where the darkness don’t shine
In the darkness I know
It’s a thin line
Egge’s country-fied folk tunes, produced by Steve Earle, sound more upbeat than the subject matter they’re addressing, but the lyrics are spot on.