The Ins and Outs
By Tamara Vallejos
There’s no shortage of folk singer-songwriters these days, but a lot about Ana Egge makes her stand out from the crowd—like that she grew up in a 23-person town in North Dakota or that, after her family moved to another small town in New Mexico, she spent seven months building a guitar from scratch.
And then, of course, there’s her storytelling, beautifully showcased on her latest and seventh album, Bad Blood. It’s an achingly honest look at the heavy topic of mental illness, but with a relaxed Americana twang that somehow turns it into a gentle listen. That is, until you pay close attention to the lyrics. Even the simplest turn of phrase—“When I wake up, will I wake up?” she croons on album opener “Driving with no Hands”—is utterly poignant.
“The album came from my personal experience dealing with family members who are ill, and the frustrations and the pain surrounding that,” says Egge. “I kept being drawn to that in my writing, and once I realized I could approach the illness as a character, it opened the floodgates for my sadness and my anger of not being able to do much to help.”
The other thing that makes Egge legit? The exceptional company she keeps. She’s played gigs with some of the scene’s heaviest hitters, including Lucinda Williams, who once dubbed Egge “a folk Nina Simone.” And take a look at Bad Blood’s liner notes, and you’ll see the album was produced by none other than Steve Earle.
“I’d co-produced all my other records and was ready to turn this one over to someone else,” says Egge. “I’d known Steve for years, and saw him a mutual friend’s wedding and thought, ‘I should ask him!’”
Despite Earle’s hectic schedule, the two found time to lay down the tracks for Bad Blood. And on that album, like on all the albums before it, Egge broke out her trusty guitar, the one she made back home in New Mexico. Like her songs, that guitar has a fascinating story to tell.
Egge’s parents founded a school in New Mexico, which taught all the basic requirements, but also gave students the option of unique electives. One year, that happened to be astrology, taught by respected guitar-maker Don Musser.
“After class, I would ask him a million questions about the guitar,” she says. Her interest landed her an apprenticeship with Musser, where the two created Egge’s instrument. It was a learning experience that has deeply impacted her music in the years since.
“It’s an amazing experience to know the ins and outs of an instrument, and to have that knowledge now to work on instruments and fix them,” says Egge. “That’s one thing. But to have an instrument from the beginning, and grow with it, and learn how it starts to open up and sound different and play different, and to hear the changes in the tonality—that’s even more amazing.”
As her guitar has matured, so has Egge. Just a few years ago, she released an album of cover songs paying homage to lazy days. Now, her song writing is tackling the intricacies of the human psyche. And while her music has become no less enjoyable, it’s also reached a cathartic level for those who have dealt with some of life’s darker struggles.
“There’s been an amazing outpouring of truth-telling from strangers who have listened to this record, specifically because of the topic,” she says. “That’s the duty of art—to help us grow and blossom through darkness.”
Ana Egge at Folk Music Center, 220 Yale Ave., Claremont, (909) 624-2928; folkmusiccenter.com, Sat, Dec. 3. 7:30PM. $12.