Quality always shines but more can sometimes be less.
Ana Egge was born in Estevan, Saskatchewan to parents who were teachers, farmers and sometime hippies. They lived in Ambrose, North Dakota, later moving to Silver City New Mexico. Egge spent time during her childhood travelling back and forth from North Dakota to a hot springs commune in New Mexico. At 16, she began a one-year apprenticeship with luthier Don Musser, building her own guitar which she still plays. Egge currently lives in Brooklyn.
This is her 12th album and clearly she is an experienced artist lauded for both her singing and songwriting. Egge arrived on the music scene with her début album, 1997’s, ’River Under the Road’, which Allmusic noted, ‘signalled the arrival of a unique songwriting perspective and moving new voice’. She was named ‘Best Singer-Songwriter’ and ‘Best Folk Artist’ the following year at the Austin Music Awards.
In 2019 AUK’s own Del Day described Egge as, ‘one of the brightest talents on the Americana scene. Her distinct brand of evocative, folk-infused songs have really made an impact – emotionally and artistically. Concurring when reviewing the 11th and last album, AUK’s Steven Rafferty felt the songs therein were able to, ‘exhibit a mastery of the craft even as she continues to push the boundaries of her own abilities as a songwriter’.
‘Between Us’ is based on a lock-down face-time writing collaboration with Irish singer-songwriter Mick Flannery. Egge also added another new element to her songwriting when she started a dream journal after realising so many songs and melodies were appearing in her dreams.
Consequently, a diverse group of players were brought together including Corey Fonville who drums in the jams and jazz group Butcher Brown and bassist Michael Isvara Montgomery and guitarist/steel guitarist Jonny Lam who are part of the African psych-funk outfit Sinkane. Flautist Anh Phung performs in a bluegrass band and New Orleans-schooled keyboardist Jon Cowherd has a long association with Brian Blades. The horn players’ credits range from Ricky Martin to Rhiannon Giddens.
Egge’s voice is clearly a major asset and might be compared to the excellent Tara Dente and not surprisingly is at its best when given chance to breathe – and unfortunately, sometimes that isn’t always the case on this offering.
If you enjoyed the most recent, ‘Is it the Kiss’, then its sparse and spare sound differs from, ‘Between Us’, which starts with some bright horns and an upbeat sound that continues to a greater or lesser degree throughout. The album is slightly marred by the occasional incongruous synthesiser – none of this is in any way catastrophic but there is an impact. Only, ‘We Lay Roses’, replicates her acoustic work and it also makes a good case for being the best track.
The album cover gives a lot away and the scrap metal provides a suitable image for the tales of broken relationships – comprising the vast majority of the content. Only, ‘The Machine’, and closing track, ‘We Lay Roses’, seem to buck that trend. The former is a curious tale of a man who seems lost except when he is inside an engine and whose understanding of the coming electronic digital age seems to be zero – as is his desire to learn. Clearly, his inability to adapt or change applies to more than engines and keyboards.
‘Hear that talk of global warmin’ electric is the future comin’ / They’re gonna outlaw V8 engine carburettor fuel injection / And you won’t understand them and they’ll leave you behind / And you could understand me but you would have to try’
‘We Lay Roses’, is a straightforward but well-rendered elegy to the loss of a nephew and so up close and personal you can almost hear the singer breathe between words. It starts with acoustic guitar, features a very restrained trumpet, is absolutely lovely, and quite in contrast to much else on the album.
‘We all met in the meadow in the evening / Friends say hello and goodbye / All wishing we could turn the hands of time / And have you by our side’.
‘Sorry’, runs a close second by way, if nothing else, of some clever wordplay and repetition,
‘I’m sorry for your trouble you’re sorry for yourself / You’re sorry that it happened and that it happened once again / I’m sorry you’re a sucker for the stories that I tell / I’m sorry there’s no water at the bottom of the well / I’m sorry you got roped in to this sorry little plot / You’re sorry I’m so sorry when I’m very clearly not’.
If you are familiar with Egge’s considerable output then it’s likely you will be aware of how much of a change of emphasis and style is represented here. It’s certainly different from her last recording and it is only to be encouraged that an artist doesn’t stand still. There are moments of real quality and the vocals are as good as ever and if some of the instrumentation is intrusive and possibly ill-placed then it is not a big issue. However if something like the previous single, ‘We Are One’, (with a gazillion hits on Spotify) is the peak of her art then what is on offer here does not quite hit that level.