Ana Egge’s Is It the Kiss (StorySound Records) lets subtle references to country hits of yesteryear set the stage for record ahead: “turning rhinestones into diamonds…dim lights and a bunch of friends, thick smoke on the stage again;” minimal instrumentation and a backroad lilt place Egge solidly within this tradition.
The instrumentation through the record is top form and unexpected at times. In addition to the typical guitars, bass, piano honky-tonk setup on “Cocaine Cowboys,” the album opener, flute, bass clarinet, trombone, flugabone, trumpet, pedal steel, violin, and pump organ make appearances throughout the record. Accomplished multi-instrumentalist/producer Alec Spiegelman (Cuddle Magic) was responsible for wind and brass arrangements, which alongside guest appearances by Iris Dement, Matt Davidson (Twain), Alex Hargreaves and Buck Meek (Big Thief) help Egge share her stories, which according to Steve Earle sounds “like she’s telling us her deepst, darkest secrets”.
“Cocaine Cowboys” continues, “they’ll raise your spirits up and I hope they do, or make you feel as lonely if you’re feeling blue”. With these brief lines Egge cuts to the core of the potential of these “Cocaine Cowboys” music (and possibly their drugs); sometimes they can lift you up but often they just accentuate or exaggerate what you’re already feeling; life of a tour dog can be one of extremes.
“What Could Be” moves beyond this country foundation by adding prominent drums, bass, and fuzzed out guitar popping in seemingly at random as does horns. “How do we love? We dream of what could be,” she asks and answers herself. Close high harmonies with dueling female vocals, Egge and Iris Dement, is reminiscent of early Be Good Tanya releases. A mournful pedal steel draws the listener into Egge’s dreamy “Oh My My.” Egge’s delivery here evokes of Nick Cave when embracing his mysterious and dangerous narrator voice. Fiddle on “Ballad of the Poor Child” pulls forth the Appalachian Irish influences, but the duet with Iris Dement rivals for the spotlight. “Hurt a Little” asks, “why do it if it isn’t gonna hurt a little?” She continues, “sometimes it’s gonna feel wrong if it’s ever gonna be right…sometimes the work will be hard if it’s ever gonna work at all”. With these lines Egge has crafted a softer, sweeter version of “no pain, no gain”.
“Teacake and Jamey” paints a portrait of a lonely soul waiting on a heartbreak that ends in tragedy at the end of a gun’s barrel all wrapped up in an adulterous affair and a baby born out of wedlock. At various points throughout the song the question seems direct at baby at other times lovers – new and old. James confronts the despair of addiction, while “Rise Above” speaks directly to the click-bait echo chamber of the online world and offers sound advice for maintaining one’s moral compass in the midst of such confusion, “don’t fall for anyone’s reasons to hate someone, we will, we will, rise above”. A bouncy rhythm and an upbeat organ accompanied by happy horn flourishes sell Egge’s message of hope.
“Stay the Night” finds Egge coming to terms with her realization that, “I guess I’m good at being a bad influence”. The playfulness with which a bass clarinet hovers in and around Egge’s deadpan delivery encourages one to give her bad influence a chance in hopes of a good time. “Gotta help me make this not look bad…put the blame on me and don’t think twice” Egge sings on “Chasing Rabbits in the Sun,” Is It the Kiss’s closing track. Is It the Kiss, Ana Egge’s 11th album, brings Egge’s musical heritage and storytelling skills to the forefront acting as a reflection of a roaming and inquisitive nature nurtured by parents who “dropped-out” of normal society. While decidedly in society as a Brooklyn resident, Egge has maintained her outsider perspective and her listeners are better off for it. https://www.anaegge.com