Nathan Salsburg’s “Psalms” are an idiosyncratic new take on the Old Testament


Excerpt from the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic guitar | By Adam Perlmutter

During the coronavirus pandemic, Nathan Salsburg, a Kentucky-based guitarist, composer and archivist, has recorded a series of projects in which he creatively explores his Jewish background. On a pair of 2020 albums, Landwork No. 1 and 2Salsburg sampled 78 rpm recordings primarily from Klezmer and Yiddish sources, turning them into something new by layering guitar parts and other instruments.


Salsburg take a totally different approach on their latest album, Psalms. He began to prepare the project in 2016, when he developed the opening ritual Tehillim, the book of Hebrew Psalms, to random pages and reading English translations to find passages that resonated with it. Salsburg eventually recorded nine of his takes on the Psalms in 2020, singing in Hebrew and English with a band that includes Spencer Tweedy on drums and Will Oldman and Joan Shelley on backing vocals, along with Israeli singer Noa Babayof.

Psalms is almost as much about Salsburg’s connection to his acoustic guitar as it is to his legacy. From the opening notes of the first track, “Psalm 147”, in D tuning, each song begins with a gem of a finger-picked idea that not only reveals Salsbourg’s impressive mastery of the instrument, but creates a majestic and meditative atmosphere the sacred texts. And instead of relying on the modes and harmonies associated with traditional liturgical and instrumental music, Salsburg filters everything through its own modern folk lens, resulting in one of the most personal statements of Jewish music ever recorded.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic guitar magazine.


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