Two men with admirable underground pedigree, Chris Brokaw and Geoff Farina have paid their dues at the refined edge of the US alternative scene these past two decades, Brokaw with the quietly influential Codeine and later sessioneering, Farina mainly solo but now with Glorytellers. Last year, they pooled their talents on The Angel’s Message to Me and drew on their labyrinthine pasts to play warmly received shows on both sides of the Atlantic – in the process, sowing the seeds for this follow-up.
The Boarder’s Door is released to coincide with a series of dates in the UK and beyond, made up of tracks worked up on the road between the pair, and more prepared apart. It’s an unassuming feast, plenty to get your teeth into but largely preoccupied with space and atmosphere. Brokaw and Farina are guitar virtuosos without being overly showy – there’s nothing else here but their playing and their exchange of voices, and one never overpowers the other, the guitar as eloquent as the vocal; indeed there’s as much said in mild instrumental ‘Take Me Back to Baltimore’ as in the cover of Marty Robbins’ confessional ‘They’re Hanging Me Tonight’. The album is absorbing, but it never makes a desperate bid for attention.
Allow yourself to be drawn in however, and themes begin to emerge. Dark themes. Song for the dying ‘You Ain’t on Your Way to Hell’ leavens its subject with a Paul Simon melody, but is otherwise direct and unashamed, while ‘Into the Woods’ builds a panicky intensity with sustained chords and grim repetition – “I see a light, I see a light… I see the sky, I see the sky, above the trees…” On paper it seems bucolic, but it sounds like a hushed howl into the void. No more chirpy is Brokaw’s whisper deep in ‘Criminals’’ mix, fighting to be heard above the doomy ambience, an imaginary outtake from an early REM record.
The mood lifts with the hazy beauty of ‘Prelapsarian’, all Beatles’ ‘Julia’ changes and tributes to “innocence forgotten”. It’s matched by the leisurely ‘Try Me One More Time’ – ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ remodeled as a campfire sing-along – and ‘Little Maggie’, where eager guitar works the fingers and Farina toasts a girl with a banjo, before it all breaks down into studio chat. The whole album is characterised by this impromptu production, which comes to a head on closer ‘Faenza’, an instrumental lesson in hesitation which appears to have been recorded on a gas station forecourt, Neil Young-like guitar picked as cars speed by. ‘Faenza’ is still as the world passes by, a fitting summary for a pretty but out-of-time album.