Is It The Kiss could be the album which finally lifts Ana Egge, a Brooklyn based songwriter of Norwegian descent, into what counts for the Americana big time. Followers will know that her previous albums are all excellent but she excels here, especially in the song arrangements which drape her wonderfully relaxed and warm singing. At times she reminds one of Joni Mitchell’s first forays into expanding her sound, folk songs becoming populated with jazz and blues influences.
The album starts off quite conventionally with Egge’s tribute to that great wave of singer songwriters who bounced out of Texas in the 70s. Cocaine Cowboys even sounds like a Willie Nelson song (and he really should cover it) as Egge sings, “They raise your spirits up and I hope they do, they make you feel less lonely if you’re feeling blue. cocaine cowboys turning rhinestones into diamonds with a song, cocaine cowboys keep you dancing and drinking all night long.” Midway through, this simple song then grows wings as a string section burbles in, a harbinger of things to come. What Could Be is simply sublime as it kicks off on a slow soul shuffle with Egge sounding like Lucinda Williams before a chorus which sounds so much like early Mitchell comes in. There’s also a middle eight featuring a muted horn section, reminiscent of some of Court & Spark, and those spare and inventive horns adorn some of the best songs here. Oh My My adds some achingly sweet pedal steel to the mix although one’s ear is drawn to the walking bass which guides the song as Egge’s feather light vocals are quite spectacular.
In the midst of this sonic bravado, Egge clings firmly to her storytelling skills. Teacake And Janey is essentially a murder ballad couched in mystery while James, a song adorned by odd bustles of percussion and strings, is an elegy for a gifted yet strange child. Chasing Rabbits In The Sun meanwhile is an oblique portent of violence delivered with an awesomely delicate balance of guitar, pedal steel and mournful horns which picks up menace when a heavy drumbeat is introduced. In a more conventional manner Egge offers up the laidback chug of Hurt A Little and the odd mix of baroque and Dixieland on Stay The Night while she gets quite rootsy on the fiddle laced country cover of Diana Jones’ Ballad Of The Poor Kid on which she is joined on vocals by none other than Iris Dement.
Is It The Kiss is a perfectly formed album with Egge’s undoubted talents bolstered by the inventive and intriguing arrangements and is well worth investigation.