Normally the works of Nathan Salsburg are set into the instrumental realm. His pieces for guitar are uniquely fluid, calming, transcendent, and beautiful in a way that’s possibly only mirrored by his contemporary William Tyler. Salsburg’s Third has become a bit of a totem for peace around my house. My children refer to it as the “calm record,” and it often plays in the car when we return late from their grandparents and need everyone in a quiet mood while the twisting hills of the Catskills roll by out the windows. His latest is still just as contemplative, though with help from Noa Bababyof, Will Oldham, and Joan Shelley, he’s folded a lyrical element into his works that shadows and shelters the record. In fact, that lyrical element is the core of the album, and built in deference to many of his works, the lyrics birthed his melodies.
Psalms, is quite the literal title. The record is built from Hebrew psalms, amassed from a book that came into Salsburg’s a few years back and paired with Dark’cho, David Asher Brook and Jonathan Harkham’s 2004 album of traditional Chasidic melodies and liturgical pieces. Salsburg found psalms that both resonated in their content and that could be fit to melodies he’d constructed around the phrases. It’s a striking record that finds connection to one’s culture while also creating an environment of quiet contemplation. There are spiritual musics that are exultant, celebratory and sublime, yet while the last label might apply here, this is not an enraptured vision of spirituality. In that light its an extension of his earlier work, still finding moments of quietude that inspire the mind to meditate.
Having little to no familiarity with Hebrew, the words in the recording are lost on me without the translation, but just as with any record out of one’s own fist tongue, the voice is as much an instrument as any string. Salsburg and his assembled players carve new worlds out of The Old World, creating a record of serene moments that still let those hills roll by. The sentiments keep the traveler safe, comfort them at night, keep the light lit at dusk and the sun soft at midday. They are hopes repeated and refrained — mantras, moorings, meditations — call them what you will, they form a deeply resonant record that sets the defaults straight when when the dials have bent and bulged.
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