Published Jul 28, 2015On first pass, Ana Egge's self-produced eighth album Bright Shadow comes across as milder and more traditional than its edgier, electric and eclectic Steve Earle-produced predecessor, 2011's noir-ish Bad Blood. Only a couple of songs have the sense of urgency I'd grown to expect from her, including "Fifth Of July," which sounds like it could have belonged on the earlier record.
But luckily, the Canadian-born, North Dakota-raised, New York-based songwriter knows how to do a lot with a little; in its way, the traditional acoustic, mandolin and fiddle tune "Jenny Run Away" (Egge is backed throughout by Yep Roc Americana trio the Stray Birds) matches Egge's rockers in intensity, even though she could be playing it in a barn.
This return to bluegrass-loving roots and relative sparseness allows a new side of Egge's writing to shine. Opener "Dreamer" builds from just upright bass and vocals to inviting the band in, while the title track shows off the arrangements best: Egge's voice, haunting, near-whispered and centred amidst gently plucked banjo.
I'm not sure about the conceit of nostalgic toe-tapper "Flat Top Guitar," but otherwise, Bright Shadow is a quiet thinker of an album, in which the theme of dreaming keeps popping up, both in terms of art and pregnancy (Egge gave birth to her daughter after recording the album).
Egge's simple lines are powerful on near-solo "Turning Away," while Dolly Parton's "Wildflowers" comes across so comfy it nearly passes as one of her own. She closes with a Gillian Welch-ish standalone ballad, "The Ballad of Jean Genet," accompanied by lonely slide guitar and the Stray Birds' humming. (Independent)