Diversions, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, catches up with our favorite artists as they wax on subjects other than recording and performing.
The first time I heard “Impossible Air,” the third track from Kentucky guitarist Nathan Salsburg’s third lp Third, I was overwhelmed. Though like the other nine songs that accompany it, “Impossible Air” features nothing more than the sound of Salsburg’s unaccompanied acoustic guitar, each low string buzz and striking string bend captured simply and cleanly. Like the best guitar soli, Salsburg’s songs offer a gift to the listener: the gift of space. His songs, formed from elements of ancient American traditons and elegant Celtic ballads, create room to feel, articulating that weird middle ground between melancholy and sweetness. Like Salsburg’s previous works, it’s wonderful, but there’s something new at work here, on his finest album yet, a new sense of lightness and grace.
“The songs that came out — and the songs that are still coming out — there’s an ease,” Salsburg says over the phone from his home in Kentucky, nursing his first cup of morning coffee following a string of West Coast shows with his musical partner Joan Shelley. The years between Third and his last solo record, 2013’s Hard For To Win And Can’t Be Won have found Salsburg on the road and collaborating in the studio with Shelley, James Elkington, Wooden Wand, Bonnie Prince Billy, and others. Working with friends has opened his approach up, and made “the joy of playing more acute and more readily available.”
“My first two records, I felt like they needed to be representatives of some inchoate yearning or the need to express myself in some big way,” Salsburg says. “I say this with some sarcasm, because everyone who plays an instrument wants to do that. But [I was inspired by] the fun of playing with Jim and Joan, and when I came back to doing solo guitar music, I didn’t ask it to do so much, or really anything for me. The fun of playing with those two extended itself into playing solo.”
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