When Ana Egge got bit by the music bug as a teenager, she took matters into her own hands, building her own guitar, and moving to Austin, TX to observe, absorb and take musical risks. The striking depth and unusual maturity of her singing, playing, and songwriting got her noticed, and she recorded her first album, River Under the Road (1997) with the legendary western swing band, Asleep At The Wheel. The Austin Music Awards named her “Best Singer/Songwriter” and “Best Folk Artist.” Over the ensuing years and 8 subsequent CDs, Ana has made good on that promising debut. She has worked with producers Martin Terefe, Jason Mercer, Joel Plaskett, Steve Earle, and Stewart Lerman, and recorded full albums with The Stray Birds and The Sentimentals. Now, in 2018, she has released White Tiger, her tenth album, a new batch of Egge originals of such singularly articulate and affecting honesty and sensitivity, as to once again deserve USA Today’s accolade, “[Ana] can write and sing rings around” her contemporaries.
Ana Egge grew up with parents who “dropped out,” choosing to raise four girls in a lovingly cobbled together combination of a small farmhouse on the North Dakota plains, a bus on the California Coast, and a hot springs commune in rural New Mexico, scraping together dimes and hand-me-downs. Ana learned that her life was truly hers to create. “We were always the outsiders,” she says. “I was taught how to shoot a gun and how to enjoy alfalfa sprouts and tofu. 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.” Given her unconventional upraising, it’s not surprising that Ana has since been plotting her own journey, confident, fearless, and uncompromising.
She’s been around the horn of life’s experiences, having forsaken the Great Plains for Sunset Park in Brooklyn, and gotten married and become a mother, but she’s never lost touch with the free-spirited childhood and the Western landscape that formed her.
That questing spirit is everywhere evident on White Tiger. “Western Movie” finds a parallel for her freewheeling adolescence in the Tucson of Martin Scorcese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, while “Last Ride” fondly recalls a romance on the road (I borrowed my uncle’s motorbike / And I headed north on Interstate 5 / You were waiting and jumped on behind / I couldn’t wait to make you hold on tight). Ana’s later, big city escapades are chronicled in “Girls, Girls, Girls,” an evocation of a young lesbian first making the scene (New York City was the place to to be / Waiting on my man, waiting on sweet Jane), while “Dance Around The Room” finds Ana as a more domesticated young(ish) mother serenading her 4-year old daughter (Reaching for the stars with you / And for the sun and moon / It opens up, opens up our hearts). An open heart can be everything to Ana, and it beats in the love songs “Be With You” (The church in the mountains / The cave where we slept / The city underground / The true love we kept), “You Among The Flowers”
(You among the others, I picked you in full bloom / Thought you were another, first time I met / You remind me of a woman I once knew / You remind me of all the ways I wanted you), and even in the sweet resignation of the album closer, “Let The Light In”
(Some kind of spell’s been broken down / Now I’m not afraid to be around you / Open the window and let the light in / Starting today we can finally be friends).
That open-hearted spirit of adventure is also evident in the communal music-making of White Tiger, most notably in Ana’s collaboration with producer Alec Spiegelman (Cuddle Magic), whose contributions on reeds, keyboards, and vocals, together with his wind, string, and vocal arrangements, elegantly inform the whole. Other featured musicians include singer Anais Mitchell, guitarist Buck Meek (Big Thief), drummer Robin MacMillan (Aoife O’Donovan), bassist Jacob Silver (Amy Helm), and violist Adam Moss (The Brother Brothers). Particularly touching is Ana’s live trio version of John Hartford’s “In Tall Buildings” with singer/guitarist Billy Strings and violinist Alex Hargreaves. Ana wrote the song “White Tiger” as encouragement for a dear friend going through hell, and in need of her spirit guide (Keep your eyes on the tiger / Feed him, let him be your guide / Teach him freedom, that he might lead you / Through to the other side). Ana, herself, fiercely honest and compassionate, is not unlike that animal, near-miraculous, rare but real, and she, too, can take us through, enlighten our lives. She still plays that guitar she made herself all those years ago, and is still possessed by a self-determined sense of who she is and what she wants to do. As Lucinda Williams once told some friends, “Listen to her lyrics. Ana is the folk Nina Simone.” According to Shawn Colvin, “Ana has the rare gift of being so eloquent and simple that she takes your breath away. I just love her.”