Fresh Stream

James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg — Ambsace

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The second album from gentleman guitarist duo James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg is one of archetypical guitar excellence. Breezy and deceptive in the seeming simplicity of its execution, the performance of thirteen songs across Ambsace maintains a certain easygoing feel with its down-home good-naturedness. Elkington and Salsburg are a well-matched duo crafting “perfect guitar music,” which definitely recalls those classic English guitarists Jansch and Renbourn, while instantly and sublimely conjuring up the sounds of Appalachian folk and Southern country blues.

Opening with the twisting climb that its title implies, album opener “Up of Stairs” beckons its listener into Elkington and Salsburg’s world of fine back-porch musicianship on a warm late-summer evening. Following up with stunningly lyrical instrumentation of “Invention #4,” with its gorgeous descending bridge, the guitars seemingly begin to be capable of singing without uttering a word.

There’s certainly a jazz influence on Ambsace, felt particularly in numbers like “Dim Recollection,” and the duo’s take on Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine.” The latter in particular reimagines the Ellington’s swinging big band arrangement into a moody, lilting tune that is indicative of the magic of this partnership. Indeed, the album is full of addition by subtraction, whereby paring down arrangements to barely more than two guitars displays the idiosyncratic wit of the musicians at work.

The influences across Ambsace are rich, varied and cultured. Django-like flourishes abound in the flashy fretwork of “Bee’s Thing,” and there is an unmistakable nod to dobro master Mike Auldridge in the brief vignette of “Carrots.” These two tunes in particular present a fine cross-section of the album: there are songs, and there are vignettes — and then there are vignettes within the songs, and vice versa.

To hammer home the feel of the backporch affair that permeates the album, Ambsace closes on the classic Norman Blake folk/bluegrass composition “Slow Train Through Georgia,” which similarly closes that guitarist’s album Whiskey Before Breakfast. Played simply as a brief instrumental (as “Slow Train”), Nathan Salsburg and Jim Elkington call upon their great skills to humbly infuse the tune with gorgeous flatpicking runs and the sort of understated brilliance that glimmers throughout this gem of an album.

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