James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg are strange bedfellows in many ways. They’re two men who come from very different places but share an affinity for acoustic traditions and the lost art of guitar duets. Elkington is an Englishman camped out in Chicago who’s been living and collaborating with some of the pluckiest guitarists for years now — Jeff Tweedy, Steve Gunn, etc. — and Salsburg is the child of a Greenwich village folkie, a day-job folklorist, and a Kentucky transplant with an interest in British and Scottish folk revivalists. Their relationship is very much of a personal nature — Elkington married one of Salsburg’s childhood friends, and their friendship progressed easily out of that connection into one of a working nature. Ambsace marks their second album together, following up 2010’s Avos. Both this record and their 2010 debut Avos bear traces of friendship and deep artistic understanding. Their guitar parts move succinctly but with quick instinct, the way fewer words are required the deeper you know someone.
But Ambsace offers another challenge for the duo — to rework pre-existing songs into the confines of their own casually complex six-string conversations. Our first two tastes off the record — “Great Big God Of Hands” and “Up Of Stairs” — were among its original compositions, but today, we’re premiering their reworking of the Smiths’ “Reel Around The Fountain.” Stripped of vocals and the slow dirge of organs, their version imagines some happiness into the song’s somber, backwards declarations of love. They’ve softened it without watering it down. But injecting a sprightly air into a Smiths song is no mean feat, and this version becomes wholly their own in a flurry of sweet guitar flourishes that never lose sight of the initial dizzying melody. Listen.
The guys are going on their first-ever tour this fall, and they’re keeping it all in the family by touring in support of Steve Gunn. That’s quite a stacked bill. Here’s their upcoming tour dates this fall:
10/22 Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church – Side Chapel
10/23 Brooklyn, NY @ Union Pool
10/24 Brooklyn, NY @ Union Pool
10/25 Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse
10/26 Burlington, VT @ Signal Kitchen
10/27 Montreal, QC @ La Plante
10/29 Toronto, ON @ The Great Hall
10/30 Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar
10/31 Chicago, IL @ Constellation Room