Is it rock or is it country?
It's a question asked of many bands, and one most of them would rather not answer.
It's music. Isn't that good enough?
For three albums, Boston-based Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles have toed that line, mixing old-school country yearnings with alt-rock attitude and energy.
For their third release, The Stars Are Out, Borges and her boys have seemingly chosen a side, making a record that's a lot more Boston than it is Nashville.
But more importantly, it's another good record, regardless of classification.
And that, indeed, is good enough.
Released Tuesday on Sugarhill Records, Stars leaves little doubt about its direction from the crunching opening riff of the opening track "Do It for Free." Already a single with a video, "Do it for Free" is also demands the most attention upon first listen to the album. The track is loud, aggressive and dripping with in-your-face attitude.
It starts the album off on the right foot.
The success of the record hinges on its ability to mix themes and tempos. It finds a struggle with in the middle of the album. After the opener, the album carries on its energy with "Yesterday's Love."
From there, though, the album slows slightly with "Me and Your Ghost" and further with Smokey Robinson's "Being With You." This works, but "No One Will Ever Love You," the third straight downbeat song and the weakest of the three, suffers. The record bogs down momentarily and needs a pick-me-up.
This happens in fine form with "I'll Show You How," a track highlighted by the guest harmonica of Dennis Brennan.
The album's most "Nashville" moment comes, oddly, from "Ride With Me," a cover of Beantown's own Lemonheads. With its pedal steel and violin, it seems an out-of-place product of Boston.
But it also shows the band remains firmly in touch with all its influences in countrifying an indie rock tune.
"It Comes to Me Naturally" picks it up with a pure fun. A gender-bending cover of a New Rhythm and Blues Quartet song, it returns Borges to her wild girl image in a song about a woman with an insatiable appetite for men.
The album cools down to a close with "Better at the End of the Day" and "Symphony." The final track is unique in that Borges is the only member of the regular quartet taking part. Her vocals and guitar work are joined by violin, mellotron and electronic beats and loops.
While symphony doesn't exactly fit the straightforward roots rock of the rest of the album, it works at the end of the album. As the final strum of the guitar fades to silence, the listener is left with the best element of Borges' music -- the stripped down beauty of her voice.
One change in the band since 2007's Diamonds in the Dark is the departure of guitarist Mike Castellana, with Lyle Brewer replacing him and the music staying strong. The rhythms of bassist Bink and drummer Rob Dulaney remain intact.
The lineup change may or may not account for the slight lean toward rock, but it does illustrate the fact that a strong band can carry on through personnel changes.
My spin: B
At the end of the day, Borges and Co. have produced another strong outing. They have been with producer Paul Q. Kolderie (whose impressive resume includes albums by Radiohead, the Pixies and Uncle Tupelo) since their debut Silver City, and the sound has been strong throughout.
In The Stars Are Out, Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles have produced an album with a delightful mix of old rock, new rock, country and blues.
They've also produced a fun record. And that's the point, isn't it?
The Stars Are Out
Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles
The players: Sarah Borges-vocals, guitars; Binky-bass; Lyle Brewer-guitars; Rob Dulaney-drums
Producer: Paul Q. Kolderie
Released: March 24 on Sugarhill Records
Want to learn more?: www.sarahborges.com or www.sugarhillrecords.com