Nathan Salsburg - Psalms
He is doubtless one of the best players we've ever heard (and seen), but there has always been a special little flicker when he sings... And this really is special, such spiritual vibes.
Psalms is a collection of new arrangement of Biblical psalms, sung in Hebrew by Salsburg with a backing band which includes Joan Shelley, Will Oldham, James Elkington and Spencer Tweedy.
Salsburg, an archivist with the Alan Lomax Archive, says the project came of "a desire for some kind of rigorous and creative Jewish engagement, which came to take shape in the irregular practice of opening a bilingual Book of Psalms at random, scanning the English of a particular chapter for passages that resonated conceptually and emotionally, and scanned rhythmically. Copying those selections over to a separate page," then threading them into new melodies.
He goes on to say: "My formative experiences with Jewish music were collective and participatory, at synagogue and summer camp in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, where the repertoire was heavy with 'American nusach' played on acoustic guitars, combining liturgical Hebrew with contemporary English translations and Israeli folk-song lyrics, it was meant to be sung with maximum physical investment (jumping, shouting, dancing, swaying) for maximum emotional return, which it absolutely delivered. Its earnestness was its cardinal virtue, as it provided an experience of catharsis similarly guileless and really quite liberating
for the young Upper Southern/Midwestern Jew I was. It was not, however, music that I could carry into adulthood—I was too old for summer camp; I stopped attending synagogue with any regularity; I sought more than unadulterated emotionalism. I became drawn, then, to Jewish music in which I was incapable of participating: in time, klezmer and cantorial performances on 78rpm records; in
space, the devotional traditions of Sephardic and Mizrahi communities. So when I heard Dark’cho, David Asher Brook and Jonathan Harkham’s 2004 album of traditional Chasidic melodies and liturgical pieces, I was smitten by it and brought it in close. It was delicate, intentional music, made by sensibilities I felt in tune with. It was sung quietly and played sparely on instruments I might have chosen.
Its spirit was of private meditation as opposed to collective ecstasy; its sound more of seeking than of finding. It was the stuff of aspiration, and it served as a guide to the practice from which Psalms emerged."
Nathan Salsburg is based in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2012 Bob Boilen of NPR Music declared him "likely to become one of those names we all associate with American folk guitar." He has released three solo guitar albums, the most recent Third (2018) was called his "finest outing yet" by Aquarium Drunkard. He has played on albums by The Weather Station and Shirley Collins, and since 2014, has toured and recorded an accompanist to Joan Shelley. In 2020 he released two volumes Landwerk, new instrumental compositions which used fragments of 78's as their melodic base.
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