The cover of songwriter Jean Rohe's latest record, Sisterly, is an imposing portrait of the writer as her hair is braided by another woman. “Braiding someone's hair is so intimate and loving, also kind of servile, and at the same time it's this complex power dynamic,” she reflects. “I mean, you literally have control over someone's head.”
Like the portrait, Sisterly's ten narrative songs illustrate and complicate traditional notions of power and intimacy, and in doing so, explore the very nature of how we communicate with each other. The title song dwells on the words unsaid and deeds undone as a witness to a violent incident beneath a streetlamp. But it goes one step further, blowing open the particulars of this single instance and shining a brighter light of responsibility on a society obsessed with domination and coercion.
“Now, a song is a leaky papercup; it can't hold it all / thought I should call the police,but then I thought again,” she tells us, as she considers the possibility that a 911 call could ignite further violence. “Life can go by in a blur. Slowing down to write, to sing–it might be the only way I learn. There's time to find the right language, but not only that: the right ink and paper, the right envelope or bottle, I can even audition the carrier pigeons. It's a place where I can let the world be complex and disturbing and find my footing amidst that disorder.”
Rohe is probably best known for her much-covered 2012 video single, “National Anthem: Arise! Arise!” performed with community choir and brass ensemble. “I've always written about the world outside myself–'politics,' as some would have it. For a long time, I felt like the old-school folky throwback, orphaned by genre. But today I feel in-step. The songs on Sisterly align with a larger movement among my fellow writers who are now feeling the imperative to use our art to speak boldly to injustice.” Her songwriting on Sisterly addresses some of the pressing concerns of this moment: migration, incarceration, police violence, and an uncertain future, all delivered in groove-oriented songs that make sneaky use of odd meters and revel in the unexpected rhythmic twist.
Produced by her longtime collaborator, Liam Robinson (founding member of Becca Stevens Band, music director of Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, and the other half of Jean’s duo, Robinson & Rohe), the production maintains the pointedness of Rohe’s songwriting/arranging while making creative use of the studio’s riches. The resulting layered sonic landscape marks a departure from her previous, more acoustically-oriented record, Jean Rohe & The End of the World Show. Rounding out the core band are long-time friends Christopher Tordini (bass), James Shipp (percussion, synths), Jordan Perlson (drums), and Bob Lanzetti (guitar). Whether mediated by devices, conducted across oceans, passed through prison bars, or directed at an inner critic, each song on Sisterly contains an urgent missive for this moment. Rohe’s strength is in binding these themes together with sharp language and her broad musical imagination, yielding an unexpected marriage of word, sound, and story: strands in the same braid.
“remarkable in so many ways I can think of no comparison” Elmore Magazine
“A sure-footed young singer-songwriter” The New York Times
“Not only does she make astoundingly beautiful music but she is thoughtful, reflective, and courageous.” No Depression
“Rohe stands out...with her rare tune smithery, her occasionally goosebump-inducing lyrics and her sweet, deceptively gentle soprano” The Independent
“a unique musical voice that sounds like a love song for a world imperiled.” Albany Times Union
Ana Egge grabbed hold of her life as a musician early on - as a teenager, she built her own guitar and moved to Austin, TX to observe, absorb and take risks. The striking depth and unusual maturity of her singing, playing, and songwriting got her noticed, and she recorded her first album, River Under the Road (1997) with the legendary western swing band, Asleep At The Wheel. The Austin Music Awards named her “Best Singer/Songwriter” and “Best Folk Artist.” Over the ensuing years and 9 subsequent CDs, Ana has made good on that promising debut. She has worked with producers Martin Terefe, Jason Mercer, Joel Plaskett, Steve Earle, and Stewart Lerman, and recorded full albums with The Stray Birds and The Sentimentals. Ana’s last single, “We Are One,” co-written with Gary Nicholson, has gathered over five million Spotify spins. RnR called her last album, White Tiger, “wonderful” and No Depression deemed it “nothing less than a balm for the soul.” Now, in 2019, she has released Is It the Kiss, her eleventh album, a new batch of Egge originals of such singularly articulate and affecting honesty and sensitivity, as to once again deserve USA Today’s accolade, "[Ana] can write and sing rings around" her contemporaries.
Ana Egge grew up with parents who “dropped out,” choosing to raise four girls in a lovingly cobbled together combination of a small farmhouse on the North Dakota plains, a bus on the California Coast, and a hot springs commune in rural New Mexico, scraping together dimes and hand-me-downs. Ana learned that her life was truly hers to create. “We were always the outsiders,” she says. “I was taught how to shoot a gun and how to enjoy alfalfa sprouts and tofu. I ran around barefoot and learned to ride a motorcycle when I was 5. I grew up with all the time and space in the world.” Given her unconventional upraising, it’s not surprising that Ana has since been plotting her own journey, confident, fearless, and uncompromising. She’s been around the horn of life’s experiences, having forsaken the Great Plains for Sunset Park in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife, Amy, and their 5-year old daughter, but she’s never lost touch with the free-spirited childhood and the Western landscape that formed her.