On Stage Extra: Sarah Borges rocks, but is hard to define

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Sarah Borges

When Sarah Borges performs live, she rocks the house.

Borges, is a Boston guitarist/vocalist whose music has been described as “walking that fine line between punk and country.”

When Borges straps on her guitar and starts to sing, she rocks out. There is country, blues, punk, and rock in her musical DNA, but it is the rock element that stands out the most.

Area fans of Borges are in for a double treat this week.

On June 11, she will perform at the Sellersville Theater sharing the bill with Steve Forbert in a show that was postponed from March. On June 15, she will play a show at City Winery Philadelphia sharing the bill with the John Doe Folk Trio. Both of her performances will be as a duo with Keith Voegele.

Borges, who arrived on the national music scene in 2005 as the lead singer of the Broken Singles, has gone from frontwoman to solo act, to frontwoman again. In 2018, Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles released their sixth album – “Love’s Middle Name” — on Blue Corn Music. 

In the early months of 2020, the life-altering global pandemic began to hit hard, and for performers, the crisis not only suddenly, jarringly halted tours or any shows large or small, but also quashed the creative chemistry that comes from musicians getting together and jamming in the same room.

As an artist whose lifeblood flowed from these real-life exchanges of camaraderie and community, the Boston-based Borges was faced with perhaps the most daunting question of her professional career: How to connect and continue as a vital and viable working artist amid a frightfully uncertain future fraught with unknowns.

That’s where the aptly named brand new album, “Together Alone,” which was released on February 18 on Blue Corn Music, comes in. In a true-life twist on the old saying, “when life gives you lemons …,” a homebound Borges did the one thing she knew how to do better than almost anything else. She picked up her guitar and started writing songs.

“We stayed busy during the pandemic lockdown,” said Borges, during a recent phone interview from her home in Taunton, Massachusetts. “We really focused on finishing a new album. I made the album with Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. We did the recording via computer during the lockdown, so we had a lot of different players that we used. Roscoe has a great group of players he uses so I left it to him.”

Ambel is a highly respected performer and producer whose credits include The Bottle Rockets and Steve Earle & the Dukes. He was the founding guitarist for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

“When the pandemic first started, I was writing songs just to feel better and keep from getting bored,” said Borges. “With Eric, I had the songs, and he had the knowledge how to do it. Eric has been doing this for 40 years.

“Everything that got recorded, he would send to me and then I’d give him feedback – especially on bass and drums. Eric played all the electric guitar. I played acoustic guitar and my Keith Voegele played bass.

“The new album has all originals. Some I co-wrote with Roscoe and some with Keith Voegele, who is my music partner and my life partner.

“Keith and I don’t have a studio. So, when I was writing the songs, I was singing in a closet with a microphone and recording on my cell phone. We wrote all through the pandemic.

“We started making the album in June 2020 and kept going. It was influenced by the pandemic. The song ‘Together Alone’ has the feeling that we’re all in this together, but we have to be apart. The songs are about isolation. There was no escape.

“The first song is ‘Wasting My Time.’ It’s about assessing what I’m doing while I’m sitting at home. Another was ‘She’s a Trucker.” I’m a trucker. My other job is an airport courier driver.

“The whole lockdown thing gave us time to write. This is the first time it was a singular project. It was challenging with no-one to give feedback. My opinion was the only one that counted.

“I’d spend a lot of time on the basic track. I’d write a song and bring it to the band to work on it. They’d add more. The final mixing was done by Roscoe at Cowboy Technical Services, which is his studio in Brooklyn.”

One common denominator in Borges’ songs – they all rock hard.
“In the live shows now, we’re playing a lot of new songs,” said Borges. “They’re re-issuing ‘Silver City’ (her debut album in 2005) so I’ll also be doing songs I haven’t played in 17 years.”

Borges’ old songs and new songs are all characterized by musical intensity.

“We love playing good, fast rock songs,” said Borges, who graduated from Emerson College with a degree in radio. “We keep evolving but we also keep playing some of the older songs. With so many songs I’ve recorded, it’s hard putting together a set list.

“With COVID, we waited for a while after the album’s release to go out on tour. We wanted to wait until we felt safe. But when you put out a record, you have to go out. You have to keep working.”
Video link for Sarah Borges – https://youtu.be/qaPzt9YteHU.

The show at Sellersville on June 11 will start at 8 p.m. The show at City Winery will get underway at 8 p.m.

Tickets for the Sellersville date range from $29.50-$45.

Tickets for the City Winery show range from $20-$30.

If it’s June, then it’s time for The Crossing’s annual musical event – “The Month of Moderns.”

The Crossing

The Crossing (www.crossingchoir.org) is an American professional chamber choir based in Philadelphia. The Crossing is conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. It is committed to working with creative teams to make and record new, substantial works for choir that explore and expand ways of writing for choir, singing in choir, and listening to music for choir.

Many of its nearly 120 commissioned premieres address social, environmental, and political issues. With a commitment to recording its commissions, The Crossing has issued 19 releases and received two Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance (2018, 2019), and three Grammy nominations in as many years.

“It’s always called the ‘The Month of Moderns,’” said Nally, during a phone interview last week. “And it’s always in June.”

This year’s schedule includes – “Month of Moderns 1: The Books of Color and of Never,” on June 11 at 7 p.m. It features two world premieres: “Book of Colors” by Marcos Balter and “The Book of Never” by Aaron Helgeson.

The remaining concerts are “Month of Moderns 2: Unhistoric Acts” on June 25 at 5 p.m. featuring the U.S. premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s “Unhistoric Acts” with the JACK Quartet, in addition to the world premiere of Tawnie Olson’s “Beloved of the Sky,” and “Month of Moderns 3: The Book of Dawkins Songs” July 8, at 7 p.m. featuring the world premiere of David Shapiro’s “Sumptuous Planet: A Secular Mass.”

All three concerts will be performed at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill (8855 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia).

“The Month of Moderns 2022 launches with “The Books of Color” and ‘The Books of Never.” A pre-concert talk with Nally and the composers will take place at 6 p.m. in the Burleigh Cruikshank Memorial Chapel.

Marcos Balter’s “The Book of Colors” explores the historical, philosophical, social, and cultural ways we interact with and understand colors. The work engages coloristic aspects of vocal music as a door into historic symbolisms relating to identity, cultural appropriations and misappropriations, synesthesia, astronomy.

“It’s such a cool piece,” said Nally. “Marcos wrote his own text. It looks at the aspects of colors that play a role in our lives – a lot of different colors. There are four movements – each with a different scenario.

“There are the stubborn greens – plants that find their way to grow on anything – plants the come up in the middle of a crack in the sidewalk. Another is about the feeling of the color of summer. It’s 20 minutes long and there are a lot of rhythmic pieces.”

“The Book of Never” is commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. Balter’s work, drawing on his signature rhythmic energy and ingenuity, uses Jude Stewart’s book ROY G BIV as a stepping-off point to an exploration of color in our lives; how it lifts us, changes us, makes connections, and inspires thought.

History also lies deep in the origins of Helgeson’s monumental “The Book of Never,” a fascinating adaptation of the Novgorod Codex, a wooden book of psalms from 999 believed to be owned by a monk sent to convert the village of Novgorod from Paganism to Orthodox Christianity. After his excommunication, the monk focused on preserving history of the village through writing and overwriting many layers in the Codex, a technique that Aaron masters musically as he overlays these ancient texts of Novgorod with 20th-century liberal writers Wilde, Neruda, Stein, Angela Davis, and Thanhha Lai.

Novgorod was a town in what is now Ukraine. It is a sad irony of art being life that the work is born out of an authoritarian overlord, The Church, attempting to take over another land; in its failure to do so, it instead attempts to annihilate it, its people, and its culture. A concert that leaves us pondering the ingenuity and complexity of humans as we reflect on “how we got to this moment.”

“This is very different from the first piece in the show,” said Nally. “It’s surprisingly relevant to today’s news.

“It’s in Ukraine. The monk’s village had been excommunicated. The musical texture is very over-layering writing.

“Aaron wrote a piece for us in 2017. This piece grew out of discussion from the original piece. It used the origin as the other layers.”

The program also features a third piece – “Darest thou now O Sou,”.  A world premiere, it is a new work from Gabriel Jackson — a Whitman setting, written as a birthday gift to Nally.  It draws on “everything we’ve got” — virtuosic, insightful, acrobatic, and a hell of a lot of fun.

“It’s based on Walt Whitman – based on a poem,” said Nally. “It was a birthday present for me last year. It’s a big piece – very virtuostic.”

Video link for The Crossing — https://youtu.be/7Z2rPWrOz9o.

Tickets are $35 General Admission, $25 Seniors and $20 Student Link.

June is also a big month for the Serafin Ensemble (http://serafinensemble.org/) – the start of its summer season

The Serafins

The Serafins, who have a change in identity in recent years, begin their summer with a pair of concerts in Wilmington this weekend at The Music School of Delaware’s Concert Hall (4101 North Washington Street, Wilmington, Delaware, https://www.musicschoolofdelaware.org/tickets.html)

“Serafin used to be Serafin String Quartet,” said Artistic Director/violinist Kate Ransom, during a phone interview from her home in North Wilmington. “That started in spring 2001. It became Serafin Ensemble in 2019. We had been functioning as a quarter for a long time. That was the beginning of our first full season as Serafin Ensemble.

“We had a lot of changes happening in the viola seat. And, our residency as University of Delaware’s String Quartet was coming to an end. So, we decided to move away from the fixed line-up of a string quartet and move to a roster of artists. We wanted more work with other instrumentalists, so we changed to an ensemble. We have a roster of 11 with strings, piano, horn, flute and voice.”

This year’s summer festival will include nine concerts spread over three weekends with six shows in Wilmington and three in Lewes, Delaware.

“I’m excited about this festival,” said Ransom. “Our first year was 2019. The 2020 season was all planned and then was canceled because of COVID.

“Basically, I took Season Two and kept it intact and we did it in 2021. We had a wonderful season last year.”

The first show this year is “French Connection,” which was performed on June 10 and featured works by Debussy, Ravel, Faure and Poulenc.

On June 12 at The Music School of Delaware’s Concert Hall, the Serafin String Ensemble will present “Marvelous Masters” – compositions by Ludwig von Beethoven and Johannes Brahms performed by Eric Pritchard and Kate Ransom violin, Luke Fleming viola, Jacques-Pierre Malan cello, and Read Gainsford, piano.

The opening piece is Beethoven’s’ Piano Trio in Bb Major, Op. 97 (Archduke) — Allegro moderato (1770-1826) Scherzo: Allegro Andante cantabile (attacca) Allegro moderato. The second half of the show will be Brahms’ Quintet for Piano and Strings in F Minor, Op. 34, Allegro non troppo (1833-1897) Andante, un poco Adagio Scherzo: Allegro – Trio Finale: Poco sostenuto – Allegro non troppo.

“These are audience favorites,” said ransom. “There are two fairly big numbers – each with four movements. There is a lot of energy – nothing left at the end. The piano trio by Beethoven is a timeless work – very well-loved.

“The second half of the show is the most revered piano quintet by Brahms. It’s one of the greatest masterworks of all time.”

The performance on June 10 will start at 7 p.m. and the concert on June 12 will get underway at 5 p.m.

Tickets for each concert are $25 for adults and $15 for students.

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