James Filkins,
Borderline Normal
(independent, 2007)

James Filkins's acoustic guitar CD derives its title from the alternate tunings of its 14 tracks. However, no ability to comprehend cryptic annotations like "DGDGBD" and "DADF#AD" is necessary: the clear, melodic instrumentals on Borderline Normal speak eloquently for themselves.

If you like the sound of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, this CD is for you -- and if you don't, Borderline Normal may just succeed in converting you. Except for some silvery chimes and light percussion on a few of the tracks, it's pretty much just James Filkins and his acoustic guitars for the full 50 minutes of the CD. This turns out to be a very good thing.

His compositions are crisp and confident, yet produce a relaxed, easygoing ambience. The CD opens with the well-titled piece, "Round Lake Leelanau (A Biking Tune)," a track redolent with fresh air and open space. Like a musical game of Marco Polo, the clear, high refrain, slightly evocative of a bicycle bell, seems to call and answer the warmer underlying melody.

The rest of the tracks can be divided into two basic camps: those with percussion and those without. The title cut and "Possibilities" are upbeat and sunny, their sauntering pace accentuated by laidback conga and djembe rhythms. "Early Morning Promises" and "A Bleak December" are slower and more contemplative guitar solos. Because all 14 tracks are more or less mellow and cohesive in tone, it's difficult to pick out favourites. On the upside, there are definitely no clunkers.

Filkins gets just about everything right with Borderline Normal. Part of the charm is the utter lack of pretension: the liner notes comment that the recording was "engineered and produced by James Filkins, if at all." There are no synthesisers or cheesy sound effects, just good, unadulterated guitar music and sound quality so sharp that it often seems like Filkins is playing in the same room. What is all the more surprising is that the tracks were recorded in his own home.

Uncluttered and full of homegrown integrity, this CD is the perfect companion to a summer afternoon on the porch with a good book. Not that it should be relegated to background music; it's unobtrusive but fully worthy of your attention. I've never cared for the word "borderline" with its implications of being only-just-good-enough. Disregard the name: Borderline Normal is very good indeed.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jennifer Mo

10 November 2007

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