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Borders: Music from around the world


January 10, 1999
By Peter Spencer
Star Ledger Staff
"Birdhouse"
(Freenote)
***1/2 (3 1/2 stars) 

The Hoboken based duo Birdhouse uses Jon Catler's Just Intonation guitars and Meredith Borden's precise, percussive soprano to make music by turns comic, startling, peculiar and deeply moving, drawing on Borden's study of bird song and Catler's facility with his oddly tuned instruments.

The system know as Just Intonation subdivides an octave into as many as 49 separate notes. With most tracks using only one or two guitars and Borden's voice, this could be a recipe for disaster. But Catler's fine hand technique and sensitive ear for overtones keepshis guitars from sounding merely out of tune.

Catler's shifting harmonies do have their clangorous moments, and in these there is a subtle humor that is a large part of Birdhouse's charm. "Baltimore Blues," for instance, adopts clichéd Muddy Waters-style stop-time riffs that never quite settle intoa key. "Hoboken Bird" uses the same sliding harmonics to reinvent heavymetal, complete with bass and drums just this once.

Borden sounds a little over-refined on these excursions, as if she were trying to be a good sport. But in herown some what less funky element, like the droning "Bird of Pray" or "Summons of the Birds" she is a riveting performer.

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