Show Review: Eric Ambel & Sarah Borges Provide Unmistakable Rock ‘n Roll Smackdown at Hill Country Barbecue in DC

Show Reviews

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It was a warm spring day and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom as tourists enjoyed the nation’s capital.  But after sundown downstairs at the Hill Country Barbecue, things were dark and rowdy at Sarah Borges and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s joint show. Like a blended family, Ambel tours with Borges and the Broken Singles, playing some of each’s songs and staying together onstage for the night. There had been a private party and some of the people were lingering afterward to see the show, and the merch table had little orange lights beckoning. People were talking amongst themselves as the room began to fill.

As Sarah Borges took the stage with Eric Ambel – with Binky of Boston on bass and Ed Arnold on drums — she told the rapidly filling room that the band was “good and warmed up,” a veiled reference to her recent EP Good and Dirty. Arnold lit into a commanding drum pulse that let everyone know there was no mistaking this would be a rock show, one on the rock ‘n roll side of, well, rock.   “Streetwise Man” from Borges’ album Silver City was the opening number, followed by “Same Old 45” from the same record. People from the crowd were already sidling toward the stage and cameras were abundant. Borges complimented Binky by saying he looked particularly lovely tonight, and the band played “Caught By the Rain,” from Good and Dirty, a song with lyrics about being pulled over by the cops and punctuated music drenched with regret.

Three songs from Ambel’s repertoire were up next, as he mentioned he had recently released a sampler cd, aptly named Roscoe Sampler (read more about this release, by clicking right here). “Song For the Walls” was a power number from his Loud & Lonesome album, and afterward there was some lighthearted teasing, where Borges let the audience know that this next song was something of a theme song for the band on long drives: “Have Mercy;” another of Ambel’s crushingly potent numbers from his 2016 Lakeside (Last Chance) release, produced by Jimbo Mathus. For the next song, Ambel complimented Borges’ great vocals as the band performed “Loose Talk,” from Ambel’s album Roscoe’s Gang (produced by Lou Whitney, the recorded version with Syd Straw of Pat Benatar fame on vocals).

Eric Ambel plays a custom tele made by Scott Platts of Stonetree Guitars to Ambel’s specifications; tonight it’s the Stonetree Roscoe Deluxe; and Borges is playing the Stonetree Roscoe Special on loan from Ambel.   These guitars feature late 1960’s tele features, with more modern practicalities like stainless steel frets. The Deluxe has a chambered swamp ash body and Fralin P-92 pickups; for more detail, click one of those bolded words there above, or we’ll let him tell you about the special, here:



Borges resumed the reins with a song preview from her forthcoming album (the song was written by Frankie Miller, the album is due out in September): “Can’t Change It.” Frankly, this song was just downright pretty and stood out as raw acknowledgement of the very human feeling of resignation. Borges then clowned: “you can tell it’s still day 1 of the tour because we’re still kissing each others’ asses,” telling the smiling audience “the next tune is the only happy song we have: ”The Day We Met.”

It was Ambel’s turn once again and couples were unbridled, whirling madly on the dance floor to “Massive Confusion,” and then “Judas Kiss,” during which Ambel flat out flaunted his sick rock guitar prowess. This is a song which any Ambel fan would rate as one that most demonstrates his rock sensibilities. Then a J. Geils song covered by Borges “Cry One More Time” and the rhythm section totally rocked this one too. NRBQ’s “It Comes to Me Naturally” (I can’t quit it) is one of Borges’ catchiest interpretations and people acted out that truth on the dance floor some more.

Ambel’s “Total Destruction To Your Mind” is his bold interpretation of Swamp Dogg’s song, remember, from the album where he’s sitting in his underwear on a pile of garbage. Yeah, that one. The drummer was dead on, and with another smokin’ solo by Ambel, the room, hell the block, wasn’t big enough to contain it. There aren’t many players like him, and if you haven’t seen him, you must.

The band played one more song, “Daniel Lee,” a Borges song from Radio Sweetheart that particularly highlights her radically unique intonations, and then it was, heartbreakingly, time for the music to stop. But the memory was palpable and fresh.   People clustered around the merch table afterward, and there were the murmurs of people trying to stay connected to the experience. Some have seen them before, and are committed fans. A photographer, Michael Aarons, was there who’s seen them several times, and another fan is an artist Ambel produces. Several others have found the Hill Country Barbecue and their show schedule while in town for work; some still wearing white Brooks Brothers button down shirts, others in t-shirts and jeans. One man, holding a signed album and a signed cd from each artist, says he is “Steve from Maine” and realizes he comes from a small town nearby the drummer’s hometown. People just want to linger in the moments they just had, identifying with the band.

Make sure to catch this act on their next jaunt through your town. For more info and tour dates of this combination, check here.   For Ambel’s albums and some fun merch, click here. For Borges albums, slide on over here.

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