Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles are a Boston-area quartet raised on punk rock and country music. Their new album The Stars Are Out contains five original songs and five covers from artists ranging from The Lemonheads to NRBQ.
To make sure you don't think the title is a pun, the album features a picture of a glittering night sky, because Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles are certainly not stars. The group's primary charm, which is communicated very well on this album, is that it's a very good live act, an old-fashioned bar band playing a mixture of original material and covers of others' hits.
What lifts The Stars Are Out above the work of most bar bands is that Borges and her cohorts are able to put their own mark on the material they didn't write, such as their nicely moody version of a Stephen Merritt/Magnetic Fields song, "No One Will Ever Love You."
Borges and the three guys who form the Broken Singles build their own material not just around Borges' voice, which can cut across the guitars like a knife, but also around their shared fondness for pop music history. Take, for example, "Me and Your Ghost," in which Borges does some channeling of Lesley Gore circa "It's My Party," girl-group harmonies, and Mersey-beat rhythms. It's a 60s throwback that's refreshingly free of camp or irony.
The question here is whether good taste in pop music history and deft skill at reproducing a wide range of styles can cohere as something original. In this, I'm not entirely convinced. Certainly, the group's energetic eclecticism comes to them naturally. But then, originality can be overrated. Sometimes coming up with a great set-list for your live act — which is basically what The Stars Are Out amounts to as a collection of songs — is its own reward.
Listen to Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles and you want to get out of your house or apartment and hear some good live music. In this, the band is a fine motivator, a reminder of how much fun music can be, making it and hearing it being played by people for whom it means absolutely everything — a feeling they just want to share.