Sarah Borges lights a roots-rock fire
When Sarah Borges performs in roots-music hot spots like Nashville and Austin, they don’t ask about her country credentials or her alt-rock background. They just know a great voice when they hear one.
COUNTRY ROCK: Borges covers X and Dolly Parton, and she serves up a few originals that could’ve been done by either.
For Bostonians familiar with her history, however, it’s notable that a former indie-pop singer should have become one of the city’s leading country voices. And if you’ve seen Borges perform, you know that’s even more surprising given how shy and self-effacing she used to be on stage. As the singer/guitarist of Kipper Tin — who played no-glory gigs around town for a good six years — Borges was charming and waifish but gave no clue to the brassy frontwoman she’s become.
You could waste time wondering whether Diamonds in the Dark, her sophomore disc on Sugar Hill, is a country or a rock-and-roll set — suffice to say that it has covers of both X and Dolly Parton plus a few originals that could’ve been done by either. (The radio track, a cover of the Reigning Sound’s “Stop and Think It Over,” is straight-up power pop.) Whatever you call it, this is vital, flesh-and-blood music steeped in barroom sweat and love/sex undercurrents, and a good antidote to the current drony, angst-ridden school of alt-country. Borges’s band — formerly the Confidence Men, now the Broken Singles — are as adept at straight-up twang as Crazy Horse guitar demolitions. Her voice is powerful throughout, but she never shows off her pipes at the expense of a lyric. Making a quick home-town stop between a run of tour dates, she and the Singles hit the Lizard Lounge this Friday and Saturday.
Over coffee at Carberry’s in Cambridge a week ago last Monday, Borges pondered her transformation. “I don’t feel any differently about myself; but I’ve gotten better at telling people about myself. I used to be afraid I’d make too many mistakes. Now I make tons of mistakes, but I know how to make them work. I learned a lot with Kipper Tin — I learned how not to talk between songs; I learned not to drink too much beer beforehand.” And the change in musical styles? “The crux of indie rock is that you’re supposed to be witty, you’re supposed to use metaphor. Not that I don’t love that kind of music, but my voice is a little better for what I’m doing now. It’s a thin line anyhow — I’ve always loved X, and they were partly a country band. And Chuck Berry has enough twang that he’d probably get considered country.”
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