Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles
Love’s Middle Name
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
You can learn a lot about artists from the covers they choose. Sarah Borges’ decision to belt out the J.Geils Band gem “Cry One More Time” (also notably done by Gram Parsons), often as a raw concert closer, tells you plenty. Add obscure tracks from Brennen Leigh (a leathery “Lucky Rocks”) and Frankie Miller’s “I Can’t Change It,” the latter wraps up this first studio release from Borges and her Broken Singles backing unit in four years, and it’s clear she is a no-nonsense Americana rocker with taste and a cool record collection.
The Boston based singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist has been banging out tough, scrappy tunes and hitting the road hard (with time off for having a child) since her 2005 debut. She’s an unapologetic journeywoman rocker with plenty of positive reviews, praise from fellow road-hardened veterans such as Dave Alvin and a sure sense of self, evidenced even on her earliest work 18 years ago. You never get the sense she’s phoning in another one night stand or that she’s in it for the fame or money, neither of which have yet to appear. To that end, she employs former Blackhearts, Yayhoos and Del Lords guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel to help steer Love’s Middle Name in the right direction.
It was an inspired choice. Ambel has similar artistic sensibilities as Borges. He doesn’t overthink anything, basically sets the levels then gets out of the way letting her and her Broken Singles band lay down these fuss-free 10 tracks. If the nickname “basher” wasn’t already taken by Nick Lowe for his comparable production approach, it could be directed at Ambel.
Borges slings out these melodic, often sensitive (well, lyrically) tunes with all the bluster and sweat-soaked intensity as her set ‘em up/knock ‘em down live shows. From the galloping “Head it Down” to the mid-tempo riff-rocking opener bittersweet “House on a Hill” (about a deteriorating relationship) and the pulsating chords and insistent maracas that propel the Ambel co-write “Let Me Try It,” Borges drives these basic Stones-styled fist-punchers with smart and sexy swagger. Even when she puts the brakes on for the acoustic-based “Oh Victoria” (“We are all sad souls trying to get out”), or the leathery, bluesy ballad “Grow Wings,” where she sings “this world is too painful for gentle souls, someone like me,” there’s a rugged underbelly to the attack that makes them feel as hard-nosed as the more upbeat material that dominates this short (33 minute) yet potent set.
Printed lyrics would help untangle some of the words that Borges tosses out with distinctive yet slurry authenticity. But that just encourages you to play each track again, cranked up louder than the last time, to capture the details. Something Borges and Ambel would heartily encourage for what is arguably her finest, most focused and explosive hand grenade of an album yet.