On last year’s Bright Shadow, the Canadian singer Ana Egge teamed up with The Stray Birds, this time round she’s taken the collaborative process further, not only in enlisting Denmark’s folk-rock outfit The Sentimentals as her backing band (who, have recently done similar duty for Jonathan Byrd, Matt Harlan and Vanessa Peters), but also variously co-writing with their singer, MC Hansen, and bassist, Nikolaj Wolf.
It wasn’t such a giant step, Egge herself is of Danish heritage on her mother’s side and the band are old friends, having toured with them in Denmark and appearing with them on the live FestivaLink album in 2013. As shown by their past collaborations, the band meld seamlessly with Egge’s music, a blend of Americana heartland folk and country. Here, though, it takes on a fuller dimension and, as with the last album, opens with an atypical number, the drums driven, reverberating guitar bluesy rock of Take Off My Dress, a song of an empowered woman fed up of being put upon, complete with oooh a oohing refrains.
Things calm down for the more traditional honky tonk waltzing and harmonies of the Hansen co-penned Promises To Break with its classic country wordplay pun title. If that’s a delightful throwaway song about relationships, the ensuing He’s A Killer Now, another Hansen/Egge co-write, brings a serious note to proceedings, its slow metronomic rhythm backdropping a strummed reflection of the 2015 Copenhagen terrorist shootings that left the perpetrator and his two victims dead, sung from the perspective of the killer’s emotionally crushed mother. A quietly heartbreaking and particularly topical number, it’s one of the album’s stand outs.
Another track inspired by real events in Away We Go, a shuffling beat and handclaps co-write with David Moss that addresses the police shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent Ferguson protests that comes with the bitingly ironic chorus of “Away we go again We are proud, united, free We are American.” Imagine a cocktail of Paul Simon and Dar Williams; it’s that good.
On a different note, Spider, which Egge dedicates as an ode to Lucinda Williams and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers features Hansen’s tumbling chords and piercing guitar, is about a predatory femme fatale as Egge sings, “she wants to start a fight she wants you to win. She wants to eat you up and spit you out and play the victim.” This, in turn, is followed by the folk-inclined slow strum The Girl from the Banks of the Ohio, a song written by Hansen which he suggested Ana sing on the album. A tale of a “seasick sailor lost out on the sea” and the girl waiting back home, she suggests almost a Canadian version of Sandy Denny.
Interesting, the seasick sailor image spills over into the wheezing organ, handclap percussion Say That Now, a song which Egge revealed was written about her own feelings of joy and sorrow and “finding the courage to feel such loss and actually talk about it”.
Egge takes a back seat, providing harmonies as Hansen sings lead on the chugging uptempo, mandolin-featuring folk rock Still Waters Run Deep, a song inspired by his own grandmother who, whilst unmarried, ran away from an orthodox Christian home after finding out she was pregnant. The pace slows again for Falling, Falling, Falling, her soulful co-write with Wolf, its melody line calling to mind both Dion’s Abraham, Martin and John and Van Morrison’s Crazy Love while the lyrics talk of loneliness and loss and domesticity, “sitting here waiting for my wife to come home, I watch my son playing with his trains. It somehow helps me endure the pain.”
The album closes with a return to old school country territory for the gently trotting rhythm and chorus crooning of Cheaters & Deceivers, a familiar song about drinking men chasing a ‘good time’ and heart-bruised women with Hansen providing another gorgeous guitar solo and Egge channelling the likes of Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells as she sings “So set ‘em up, so I can knock ‘em down.”
This is her ninth album and, while she has built a solid following, I’ve said it before and I say it now, it’s long overdue time the wider world woke up and took notice.
Say That Now is Out Now via Grace Records / Sentimental Music
06/27 – Copenhagen, DK
07/1 – Vestergade, Aarhus, DK
07/2 – Ebeltoft, DK
07/14 – Cambridge, MA
07/15 – Galway, NY
07/16 – Wanakena, NY
07/19 – New York, NY
07/20 – Buffalo, NY
07/21 – Rochester, NY
07/22 – Toronto, ON
07/23 – Russell, ON