Sarah Borges is what you call a lifer. Through the ups and downs — and lately the downs seem to be tipping the scales — she has stuck with music, her first love she began exploring as a teenager growing up in Taunton.
She played in indie-rock bands back then, before easing into the Americana market and amassing a devoted following with her 2005 debut, “Silver City.” She had a seven-year stint with a raucous band called the Broken Singles, which dissolved in 2010.
Now, as her 36th birthday approaches, Borges is at a crossroads in nearly every aspect of her life. On her own again for the first time in a decade, she just put out a new solo album, “Radio Sweetheart.” She has a 3-year-old son, Elliot, with Lyle Brewer, who played guitar in the Broken Singles. They’re now separated and headed toward divorce.
After 2009’s “The Stars Are Out,” Borges was dropped by her label, Sugar Hill Records, but found a new home on Lonesome Day Records, a small indie out of Kentucky. A crowd-funding campaign cushioned the financial blow, too, bringing in about $15,000 to help finance the new album.
The outpouring from fans gave Borges hope at a time when it was scarce.
“It was a clean slate, but in a more violent way — I mean, I burned it all down, so anything good that happens is a gift,” she says recently on the phone from her home in Arlington. “Good things feel even greater.”
She had a good run with the Broken Singles, but felt like the band never took off the way she had wanted.
“It’s like we were beating our heads against the same wall,” she says. “We could never get to the next level. Then we just ran out of money, and all we did was eat peanut butter sandwiches and yell at each other in the van. I think I came to associate music with touring and hardship, and not fun. Once I removed that part of it, I realized music is fun.’’
She got her groove back by making a new album, not to mention recording and playing shows with local country hell-raisers Girls Guns & Glory, with whom she’ll embark on a Rock On! Concert Cruise on July 20.
For “Radio Sweetheart,” she set up shop at Woolly Mammoth Sound in Waltham, a studio owned by David Minehan of Boston rockers the Neighborhoods and also a guitarist for the Replacements. Together they recruited Steve Berlin, best known for playing with Los Lobos, to produce the album. Even before they collaborated, Minehan was well aware of Borges’s reputation around town.
“I didn’t know Sarah personally for the longest time, but I always remarked to myself, ‘This girl has got skin in the game,’” says Minehan, who also engineered and mixed the album. “There’s a lot of people who pursue music and are talented, but somehow don’t actually put the gear in motion and commit. Sarah has been doing it for quite a while and releasing high-quality records. That’s the human-interest story that I think people don’t always see behind the art.”
“There’s a fearlessness about her even though I’m sure she’s terrified,” Minehan adds, referring to her new path as a solo act.
“Radio Sweetheart” is in fact the sound of an artist getting back in the game. That title was deliberate: This is the kind of rock record that Borges would love to hear on the radio. Many of its tracks barrel out of the speakers with a jagged punk intensity that’s nice to hear after a decade of Borges in rootsy mode. “Record on Repeat,” with its feral energy, has the spontaneous combustion of a live take, and Borges introduces it as such in her studio chatter: “This is it. This is the last one, either way.”
“Big Bright Sun,” which she calls her “pot brownie song,” is a dusky rumination on her place in the world. “The Waiting and the Worry” nods to NRBQ, one of her favorite bands, and, fittingly, it features a cameo by its piano player, Terry Adams.
The album’s lone cover, a roadhouse rendition of R&B singer Lloyd Price’s “Heavy Dreams,” hits close to home, too. It relays the realization that sometimes your dreams are exactly that, and real life is much tougher. There’s a line about paying your taxes, and Borges says with requisite frustration that she was recently audited by the IRS and now owes a lot of money.
Yet at the end of the day, she seems to be handling the roadblocks as best she can. That’s just what a lifer does. When the chips are down, that doesn’t mean you’re down for the count. She’s back on the road and, more importantly, back in love with making music.
“If they don’t play my record on the radio, I think we’re going to be OK,” Borges says. “At this point, I’m just going with the flow. I don’t have a huge amount of control about what other people do.”
Sarah Borges and Girls Guns and Glory Rock On Concerts, July 20, Boston Harbor:
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