Ambsace is a word the lowest throw of the dice, the unluckiest, smallest outcome in a gamble. In a way, though, this word evokes its own singularity, and a sort of luck in the very unlikeliness of the occurrence. If anything, that word encapsulates the improbable relationship that developed between British-born, Chicago-based guitarist James Elkington and Kentucky-based folklorist Nathan Salsburg. It’s also serves as the title of their new album, out this fall on Paradise of Bachelors.
Elkington has worked with basically every guitarist worth their salt, including Jeff Tweedy, Steve Gunn, Richard Thompson, Brokeback, Freakwater, Daughn Gibson, Kelly Hogan, and Jon Langford. He’s also served as leader for two other bands, Horse’s Ha and the Zincs. Salsburg is best-known as a folklorist/archivist; he curates the Alan Lomax Archive, Drag City’s Twos & Fews vernacular-music imprint, and hosted the now-defunct “Root Hog Or Die” show for East Village Radio. After some time in New York, Salsburg returned to his native Louisville and remains deeply involved with the music scene and history there (like serving as the accompanying guitarist for elegant Kentucky folk singer Joan Shelley). Both of these men aren’t peripheral to the folk/acoustic culture but central fixtures in their respective settings, which is probably why their combined force yields such richly varied, textured guitar work.
Their first album of guitar duets — a rare enough concept on its own — is called Avos and came together slowly over time between their respective homes in Chicago and Louisville. Avos is the Russian word for “the confident approach to new situations, and the faith that nothing tragic will occur once in them,” and is a now out-of-print Tompkins Square release. That album came out half a decade ago in 2010, and the two have scrounged together enough time since then to release this second full-length. Some of the songs on this record are acoustic re-imaginations of jazz, classic and rock songs, others original compositions. The best part of their music is the entwining lines of southern acoustics and British styles, two artists at the zenith of their powers engaging in fascinating conversation. We previously heard the lilting, lazy “Up Of Stairs.” Today they’ve shared “Great Big God Of Hands,” a song small and inviting enough for a child, but big enough to cross state lines. Listen below.