Ana Egge: Bright Shadow

Egge wrote these songs with the knowledge that the music would be created with the collaboration of the American roots trio, the Stray Birds

Ana Egge

Bright Shadow

Label: Grace/Parkinsong
US Release Date: 2015-08-03
UK Release Date: 2015-07-30
Artist website

So what exactly is a bright shadow? Shadows are dark by definition. One that stands out would be blacker than normal, the opposite of bright. Singer-songwriter Egge answers this in her title song about a woman with wings who cannot fly except in dreams. She wants to be dreaming while awake, a paradox resembling that of a shadow whose light comes from inside. The poeticism of the lyrics matches Egge's whispery voice and precise picking. A listener is never quite sure of what Egge means and that’s the point. She creates aural dreams in which the real and unreal merge.

Dreams are the explicit lingua franca of several songs, such as "Rock Me (Divine Mother)" and "The Dreamer", with lines such as "In my dream I am free / This world has no hold on me" and "Dream / Come alive / Come alive in my body" as invocations to a higher spiritual state. She even imagines the dreams of a "Flat Top Guitar" gathering dust that has reveries about being played. Reality is only the place were dreams come true. The imagination is better.

Egge wrote these songs with the knowledge that the music would be created with the collaboration of the American roots trio, the Stray Birds: Maya De Vitry (fiddle, banjo, vocals), Charles Muench (upright bass, vocals), and Oliver Craven (mandolin, fiddle, slide guitar, vocals). The acoustic instrumentation and harmony singing gives the album a traditional folk feel, but there is nothing really traditional here. Nine of the ten songs are originals and the cover is of Dolly Parton's lovely "Wildflowers".

Egge knows better than to compete vocally against the crystalline purity of Parton's voice. Her rendition captures the "wild" more than the "flower" of the song's title, which is actually truer to its topic. The Stray Birds do a good job of keeping the music simple and sunny. Craven's mandolin playing in particular captures the spirit of what makes an uncultivated bloom more special than the garden variety by picking cleanly and without ornamentation.

But even "Wildflowers" is dreamlike as the main character has visions of life outside the planted plot. The self-penned material shows the merits of such behavior, even in such material as "The Ballad of Jean Genet" about a man whose miserable circumstances never stopped him from creating beautiful poetry. The slide guitar accompaniment captures the bluesy feelings that adds a feeling of "elegant despair" to the whole preceding.

Or there's the sprightlier bluegrass vibe of "Jenny Run Away" about a slave woman running away from her master to freedom up North. Even though the listener hears all about the disadvantages Jenny will have escaping, one cannot help but hope she makes it. Egge never tells what happens, but the instrumentation says Jenny is still on the run and maybe will make it. Dreams are so much better than reality. The music lets the listener dream.

As a whole, Bright Shadows shows Egge to be a creative songwriter with an optimistic prescience. Her filigreed voice may be delicate but never breaks. Her singing and playing, and that of the Stray Birds, endows the music with a loveliness that transcends the mundane details of life. We may be born to die, but we are also born to dream. That's what makes a shadow bright.


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