Now Hear This: Borderline Normal in Traverse City

James Filkins’s acoustic finger-style guitar album, Borderline Normal, is a soundtrack for quiet days. It’s a warm collection of instrumental tracks filled with breathing space and resonant harmonics, with arrangements evoking the rhythms of the natural world. “Round Lake Leelanau: A Biking Song,” for example, has an echoing riff that calls to mind the image of spokes in motion.

Filkins first picked up a guitar and started songwriting more than 30 years ago, but only recently he began experimenting with open tunings and playing finger-style—meaning the string-plucking is done with fingers or fingernails, not a pick. “It totally changed the way I played,” the Traverse City resident says.

As a language arts and broadcast communications teacher at Traverse City Central High School, Filkins noticed how advances in technology have made home recording easier for the average Joe—and when he played his original songs for his music-savvy students, they encouraged him to buy some recording equipment and craft an album.

The making of Borderline Normal was very much a Northern experience: the album was recorded at Filkins’s home with the help of former students, featuring songs inspired by Up North landmarks and cover art by local legend Glenn Wolff. Listen for tracks from Borderline Normal on Up North airwaves like Interlochen Public Radio and Northwestern Michigan College’s WNMC; find the album at local bookstores or online (where you can preview tracks) at