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100 unsexiest men 2009

Alt- together now

Sarah Borges leaps ahead by getting back to basics
By MATT PARISH  |  April 8, 2009

IDLE BANDS: “It’s hard to just sit there not touring when that’s what we’ve been doing for so long,” says Borges. “You feel like you’re useless.”

At some point during the recording of their new album, someone in the Broken Singles realized that Sarah Borges had been botching the chords to their cover of the Lemonheads' "Ride with Me" — which she'd been playing since she was a kid. They were hunkered down with engineer Paul Q. Kolderie at Camp Street Studios in Cambridge, where Kolderie had worked on dozens of golden-era Boston indie albums, among them Lovey, the 1990 Lemonheads disc that "Ride with Me" first appeared on.

"He started rooting around through all this stuff in the studio, saying he was sure he had the masters to it in a closet," says Borges. "They never did surface, though." The band eventually relearned the song from the out-of-print album with a clip they found on YouTube.

Her latest project is a return to her roots for Borges, a home-town girl who grew up in Boston's '90s alt-rock heyday. "I used to love it because you could go to T.T.'s any night and see somebody like Throwing Muses the same month they were in Rolling Stone." She'll be hosting her CD-release show for The Stars Are Out (Sugar Hill) this Friday at Church. And, yes, she was in Rolling Stone this month.

When I get Borges on the phone, she's in the tour van, pulling out of a gas station in Connecticut en route to Boston from a show they've just played in Louisville. "This wasn't the kind of music I started out wanting to do," she says of her band's rockabilly origins. Critical acclaim snuck up around Borges, and what had been a pick-up side project with friends Robert Larry Dulaney on drums and Binky on bass evolved into the Broken Singles. The line-up was rounded out by a slide guitarist, Mike Castellana; Borges developed a gruff vocal twang to match and threw on some cowgirl boots, and they all hit the road as a modern honky-tonk gang. It got serious fast — they spent nine months on tour for the previous record, 2007's Diamonds in the Dark — and at some point, it became their new life.

Recorded last summer, the new album backs away from that twang a bit. "Mike left the band," says Borges, "and Lyle [Brewer, Castellana's replacement] doesn't do slide guitar. Which is fine — I think it's going to end up making us more accessible." The opener, "Do It for Free," runs on big AC/DC drums and a Joan Jett snarl in road-weary lines like "We stay out late/We won't come home/No one's gonna miss us." "I'll Show You How" struts with a roadhouse bounce, blown-out harmonica ("Suicide Blonde" style), and tiny bleats of garage-rock organ.

But those songs are a loud diversion — the heart and soul of The Stars Are Out is its hushed weepers, especially the covers of the Magnetic Fields' "No One Will Ever Love You" and the aforementioned Lemonheads tune. They do the Fields song straight-faced, all drug-numbed '70s Dylan depression. They pull "Ride with Me" to pieces and put every little original detail into relaxed high resolution, bringing back that lost pedal steel guitar for a sad, shuffling cameo under Borges's masterfully moody performance.

"I've always loved how Evan Dando was able to deliver every line in that song so casually and matter-of-fact," she says. "I just tried to somehow echo that and get the lines about Jesus to come across like regular, everyday conversation." Like Dando, she treats the melody with an exhausted nonchalance, but she clings to her adopted Southern lilt on just enough high notes to suggest a broken-down gospel band. It's a powerhouse downer.

The trip the group are returning from — two weeks to Texas and back — is the most they've toured since finishing the album last August. They've been holding off on much more thanks to a packed release schedule at EMI Records, which has taken over operations for their Sugar Hill label.

"It's been tough in the meantime," says Borges. "It's hard to just sit there not touring when that's what we've been doing for so long. You feel like you're useless. But we've been trying to keep ourselves busy." So far, that's meant heading to Rochester, New York, to film a video for "Do It for Free" ("It was in a club after hours, and there's no place more depressing than a rock club at nine in the morning") and teaching themselves how to screenprint their own shirts.

The wait is over, though — they'll kick their travels into high gear this month with shows from Tampa to Colorado Springs. "We have our hot spots in Omaha, Wisconsin, Raleigh, and Seattle. Places that aren't very close to each other, so that means a lot of monotonous traveling and a lot of peanut butter. But it's what we do."

SARAH BORGES & THE BROKEN SINGLES + REVERSE | Church, 69 Kilmarnock St, Boston | April 10 at 9 pm | $10 | 617.236.7600 or

Related: Twang and burn, Church, Slideshow: Bon Iver, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Church, Entertainment, Evan Dando,  More more >
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