Folkie Ana Egge’s maple leaf with an asterisk
Singer coming to Dakota Tavern has Canadian pals and reflective songs aplenty.
PATRICK FRASER PHOTO
Saskatchewan-born singer-songwriter Ana Egge plays the Dakota on Feb. 2-3.
When is a Canadian not quite Canadian?
When she’s Americana songwriting folksinger Ana Egge (pronounced Eg-gy), born 35 years ago in Estevan, Saskatchewan, but raised in Ambrose, North Dakota and Silver City, New Mexico.
“I was born in ’76 when it wasn’t automatic — you weren’t automatically deemed Canadian for being born there,” she laments down the line during a break from writing at her Brooklyn, New York home.
“My parents are both American, so I was naturalized American. But I’m about to apply to get dual citizenship. I’m so excited!”
Regardless of her citizenry, Egge should be given the fast track to nationalization for the amount of domestic musical-community service she’s accumulated over 15 years and seven albums.
First, there’s the Ron Sexsmith connection: she covered his “Lebanon, TN” on her sophomore effort, 1999’s Mile Marker and “Wastin’ Time” on 2007’s Lazy Days. He contributed harmonies to her 2005 album Out Past the Lights; she to his 2001 Steve Earle-produced chestnut Blue Boy, a project that helped her decide to recruit Earle last summer as overseer of her current album, Bad Blood.
She’s even made good use of Sexsmith’s band, as bassist Jason Mercer produced Out Past the Lights and guitarist extraordinaire Tim Bovaconti has embellished a few of her recordings.
Nova Scotian Joel Plaskett produced a chunk of 2009’s Road to My Love after she contributed harmony to his Three, and also sang on Peter Elkas’ latest Repeat Offender, while Bourbon Tabernacle Choir founder Chris Brown and Be Good Tanyas’ co-founder Frazey Ford have chimed in on Egge albums as session musicians.
Even when she performs a two-night stand at the Dakota Tavern beginning Thursday, her accompanying band will be, as she says, “all Toronto guys” — led by Peter Elkas on guitar with Doug Friesen on bass and Gavin Maguire on drums.
Egge, whose sanguine alto sounds like a teakettle blend of Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Merchant and Kathleen Edwards, will be making her first local appearance to support Bad Blood, a 12-song album that tackles the theme of mental illness and how it’s impacted Egge’s immediate family.
“It wasn’t meant to be that way,” Egge concedes. “It was mostly just dealing with my own feelings about the reality of people I love — my family — dealing with mental illness. I was feeling stuck as a writer, because I didn’t want to make anything harder for anybody, but I came to realize that I had a lot of frustration and anger about the disease, not knowing what to do about it.”
“So I started writing with mental illness itself as the character, and that really set me free.”
“Sun don’t shine/ In the darkness I know,” Egge sings sadly on “Hole in Your Halo,” and whether she performs the strident title track or the mid-tempo rocker “Motorcycle,” she surprised at the chord the subject matter has struck with her audience.
“It’s been really healing,” says Egge of fan reaction. “It’s one of those things that people don’t know how to deal with or talk about . . So it’s been pretty amazing hearing stories and experiences from people who come up to me at shows, and those who reach out to me online. I think they do it just because of that silence that surrounds it.”
Born to hippie parents, Egge spent her first five formative musical years in Austin, Texas, first inspired by the Silver City visits of noted bass player Sarah Brown, the aunt of one of Egge’s friends.
“I’d hear stories of Sarah playing bass with Bonnie Raitt and Antone’s Blues Band, so when she would come to visit I’d pick her brain about everything,” Egge recalls. “After a second visit, Austin became this mythical place, and I could not just wait to go there.
“So I visited once and they let me go into all the music clubs despite the fact that I was underage. That was it: I was moving there as soon as I graduated high school.”
She immediately established musical connections with songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore and western swing band Asleep At The Wheel, whose drummer Dave Sanger produced her 1997 acclaimed debut River Under the Road.
Since then, it’s been a succession of folk, country, rock and bluegrass-blended albums on small independent labels, winning over musical fans like Sexsmith, Earle and Lucinda Williams as she continues to make strides in searching for that Americana/folk breakthrough.
As much as she enjoys performing, Egge, who builds her own guitars, says her greatest joy is hearing otherartists like Dave Alvin and U.S. folkies Laurie Lewis and Slaid Cleaves cover her songs.
“It’s such an amazing feeling to finish a song and then know that you love it and want to play it over and over again and share it with people.
“But hearing someone else sing it and play it, it’s great.”
Just the Facts
Who: Ana Egge
Where: Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Ave.
When: Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12 at the door