To watch Sarah Borges strut and howl onstage is to participate in rock ‘n’ roll communion, all glistening sweat and high kicks, soul-shaking and sassy antics. She's a modern-day retro spitfire, red lipstick curled in a smirk as she summons her six-string to conjure a host of fiery spirits, leaving a stunned and ecstatic audience in her wake.
This same raucous energy shoots through her fourth studio album, Radio Sweetheart, which is a statement of Borges’ future as much as it is a reflection of her past. Funded entirely by fans, the new album is a sea change marking a split from both Sugar Hill Records (the label that released her two most recent albums) and her longtime band the Broken Singles, all set in motion by a road weariness bred from six years of constant touring and the home-is-where-the-heart-is lure of brand new motherhood.
Nesting in with her husband and infant son, Borges wrote from a fresh perspective, composing in relative solitude in contrast to those years spent on the road. Alone with guitar and pen, Borges unearthed demos written in her teens and fell back under the sonic spell of the Boston-bred indie rock luminaries—Morphine, Juliana Hatfield—that marked her musical coming-of-age in the ‘90s.
To realize this musical shift, Borges turned to Steve Berlin, an admirer and longtime member of Los Lobos, to produce the new album. Recorded in a week at Boston’s Woolly Mammoth studio, Radio Sweetheart is nine originals (plus a cover of Lloyd Price’s “Heavy Dreams”) all imbued with lessons learned from a decade of rock and roll, countless miles spent on the road, and the range of emotions surrounding the dissolution of a band and the growth of a family.
In essence, the new album is just another step in the continual evolution of Sarah Borges. Like most kids, she grew up surrounded by her parents’ record collection, a mix of Bob Dylan and classic rock, Joni Mitchell and Gene Autry, which she supplemented with her self-proclaimed “drama geek” affectation for Rodgers and Hammerstein and the guitar- and fuzz-driven spoils of ‘90s alt rock.
Borges played in her own fledgling indie rock bands in her teens and early 20’s before taking a detour into the newly emerging genre of Americana. “I felt like I had spent all of this time trying to couch everything in metaphor, and when I started writing Americana songs I could finally say it plain.”
Those years spent playing in black box rock clubs and rented VFW halls informed Borges's style, and she soon found a believer in producer Paul Q. Kolderie (Hole, Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo), who offered to record some demos, which in turn drew the attention of Texas's Blue Corn Music at the annual South by Southwest music festival. The label released her debut full-length Silver City in 2005, which launched her onto the Americana world's radar, kicking off a whirlwind of touring where Borges and her band opened for greats like Dave Alvin and Alejandro Escovedo.
Borges' second outing, Diamonds in the Dark, was released on indie label Sugar Hill in 2007, yet another deal garnered on the merits of a South by Southwest performance. With Kolderie once again at the production helm and her touring band—the Broken Singles—jumping back into the fray, the resulting album again earned Borges a wide array of critical acclaim.
It was around this time that Borges began to resurrect those rock ‘n’ roll roots you hear on Radio Sweetheart—first in her live show, which more often than not found her straddling her guitar atop a table or surrounded by half the audience on stage, and then on her following album, The Stars Are Out, which was released in 2009 on Sugar Hill. While retaining the honesty of songwriting and sense of tradition that permeated her earlier releases, Borges bid adieu to the confines of Americana with free-spirited abandon and an almost punk-influenced grit and growl, a six-string salute from a woman who continues to defy classification and push musical boundaries at every turn.