Jess Klein, Ana Egge | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jess Klein, Ana Egge 

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Singer-songwriter Ana Egge isn't quite 30 years old, but her husky voice has the worldliness of a musician twice her age, and most of the songs on her fourth album, Out Past the Lights (Grace/ParkinSong), sound like the musings of a battle-scarred survivor. Her delicate acoustic arpeggios, boxy chord progressions, and ebullient pop-folk leads could easily have emanated from a late-60s coffeehouse, and her music owes a clear debt to Joni Mitchell and Janis Ian. But she and coproducer Jason Mercer fill out the songs with rich textures--pedal steel whines, moody, muted trumpet, and judicious cello, banjo, and fiddle. Egge can project guilelessness: on "Straight to My Head" she purrs, "I wanna be soft as the air / Disappear before your eyes and wake up in your bed," and her breathy mewl on "Motorcycle" turns the highway-as-freedom metaphor into an innocent's fantasy. But she can also cut deep: "Stone Bone" is a bluegrass-flavored tale of a woman's collapse, and "Wedding Dress," a story of love, loss, and desperation in middle America, depicts a bridal gown as a weapon of conquest, "sealed away like a secret shotgun." --David Whiteis

Brooklyn-based Jess Klein is a product of Boston's coffee-shop folk scene, but on Strawberry Lover (Rykodisc) she moves further into pop territory and succumbs to Marc Copely's glistening production. He shines up her tunes with heaps of sweet, multitracked backing vocals and blustery AOR hooks, and when big rock crescendos explode like bombs over Klein's diminutive but agile voice, the songs lose the intimacy that made her previous album, the rootsier Draw Them Near (2000), so appealing. She transcends the production on gentle, soul-tinged ballads like the title track and "Office Girl," where she uses vocal overdubs to go for a little girl-group sass. But too often Klein sounds like she's trying to disguise her straightforward songs--"Soda Water" has an ill-fitting reggae lilt--instead of trusting her narrative strengths. --Peter Margasak

Klein headlines and Egge opens. Klein also plays a free in-store at 3 PM at Record Emporium, 3346 N. Paulina, 773-248-1821. Sat 7/2, 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10.

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