Chris Brokaw and Geoff Farina - The Boarder's Door
Owain Paciuszko 20/11/2010
Earlier this year indie legends Chris Brokaw (Codeine) and Geoff Farina (Karate) released a charming little record of American folks and blues covers called The Angel's Message To Me, this record is in many ways a companion piece to that album, but juggling original compositions alongside a number of covers such as the opening track Little Maggie, a dusky bluegrass song written by The Stanley Brothers which was recorded on a veranda in Vasto, Italy alongside the following track Try Me One More Time, a traditional folk song with the duo's guitar rattling alongside one another nicely and the sound of birds chirruping in the background.
Hammer and Spade is a Farina song that I heard played on their tour for the previous record, it's a soft, bittersweet ballad showcasing both Farina's wonderful guitar work and his soothing, slightly weathered voice. Meanwhile instrumental track Take Me Back To Baltimore is an intimate and pleasant little number, that makes you feel like your sat on the floor of a small, dimly lit venue, drink in one hand, watching with fascination at the skills of these performers as they take it in turn to perform. The album takes a brilliant left turn into the first Chris Brokaw composition Criminals, with its venomous verses, loaded with gathering storm clouds and dark majesty; if anything these begin to suggest how this creative relationship has reawakened his abilities as a songwriter, to confirm this it's followed by the racing, fevered trance of Walking Into The Woods, a desperate sounding guitar contrasted excellently with Brokaw's solemn, gritty vocal.
By comparison Farina's following original tune Prelapsarian is a pleasant little ditty, but lacks the emotional fire that's burning in Brokaw's heart, and it's almost detrimental that Farina can effortlessly conjure up something so cosy and pretty, that sometimes - though utterly delightful - you feel he's just coasting along. After the equally luminescent balladry of You're On Your Way To Hell there's a fuzz of a room's atmosphere as Brokaw begins the reflective cover of Marty Robbins' They're Hanging Me Tonight, which, like his other contributions, was recorded in varying hotel rooms whilst on tour and has a stripped bare confessional quality as much as it seems like a gloomy, pessimistic resignation to fate.
The light guitar tones that ring out from Farina's guitar on The Dove and The Lamb serve as a perfect contrast here, his lyrics are playful and sweet; 'Share the massive dictionary/pages light as leaves, crackle in the breeze. Here on the record the differences between the two performers manage to compliment one another, in turn, brilliantly, with Farina's song a breath of fresh, summery air after the decidely dark, chill brought on my Brokaw's previous song.
Brokaw gets the last note in though with the lengthy, ambling Faenza, with the sound of chatter, cutlery and traffic drifting through the background, occasionally pushing into the foreground and cutting at Brokaw's laidback, carefree guitar playing. As much as it feels like a moment in time where you allowed to sit on a pause between gigs with this musician, the track feels more like a sound collage, an ambient experiment, than a tune of its own and thus its naming is apt, with the music trying moreso to capture eight minutes in the titular Italian city.
This record begins as a continuation of the ambitions of The Angel's Message To Me but progresses quickly, evolving as much as Brokaw and Farina's relationship with playing those years old bluegrass covers in amongst their own back catalogue must have done; and their experimentation as they travlled together starts to become evident, more so from Brokaw who, especially on his original tracks, flourishes filling his songs with emotion and energy. Which is not to take anything away from Farina's performance here, which lends itself ably to this snapshot of two incredibly talented musicians perfectly at ease with themselves and playing beautiful, exciting and enriching music.