album reviews

Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles
Diamonds in the Dark
Sugar Hill Records (2007)
Eilen Jewell
Letters from Sinners & Strangers
Signature Sounds (2007)

If being a country singer doesn't work out for Sarah Borges, she could have a perfectly viable career in the punk scene instead. Her husky voice would be perfect for it; the anguished, unaccompanied yowl of "I won't miss it all that much" that closes her "Lonely Town of Love" sounds eerily like Anne Preven from the oft-overlooked band Ednaswap. That pained sound is well suited for a cover of X's "Come Back to Me," as Borges even manages to out-anguish Exene Cervenka's tortured moan.

Borges's covers are certainly admirable; she takes on Tom Waits's "Blind Love" with a melodic rasp that emphasizes the song's lovelorn despair. Unfortunately, her unique sound can't save her from some mundane lyrics on her original numbers, as she mourns, "I'm always the girl that they dance with / but I'm never the one that they want to take home" on "Belle of the Bar." Despite a few such brokenhearted cliches, there's more than enough in Borges's rough delivery to keep "Diamonds" interesting.

With her knack for giving older songs a traditional feel with modern flair, Eilen Jewell is bound to draw comparisons to Laura Cantrell -- and the vocal similarities will only add to that association. Jewell's plaintive cover of Charlie Rich's "Thanks a Lot" oozes Cantrell's laid-back style, and her version of Eric Andersen's "Dusty Boxcar Wall" is reminiscent of Gillian Welch. Her originals are equally solid, from the jazzy "High Shelf Booze" to the snappy "Rich Man's World," with her relaxed vocal style and a sassy harmonica solo.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 10 August 2007, Page WE12
.: Items mentioned above on Diamonds in the Dark (Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles, 2007); Letters from Sinners & Strangers (Eilen Jewell, 2007).