The joy in guitarist Nathan Salsburg's third solo album lies in its rustic austerity and sturdiness of craft. In the five years since his last release, 2013's excellent Hard for to Win and Can't Be Won, the Louisville-based musician has become more widely known as a collaborator, gifting his lyrical fretwork to albums by Red River Dialect, the Weather Station, and Jake Xerxes Fussell, while acting as singer/songwriter Joan Shelley's full-time musical partner. He and like-minded fingerstylist James Elkington delivered their second volume of acoustic guitar duets in 2015's lovely Ambsace, but the aptly titled Third marks Salsburg's return to solo work and is also his first to feature nothing but a single acoustic guitar. The solo guitar album as a concept is no great revelation, and in fact has made somewhat of a comeback in certain circles, but rarely is it done with such finesse and earthy elegance as on these ten tracks. A lifelong student of folk traditions, Salsburg has manned his post as curator for the Alan Lomax Archive since the mid-2000s and his own composition style lies in a sort of mid-Atlantic realm that takes as much influence from the British Isles as from his native American South. Standouts like "Timoney's" and the gorgeous "Impossible Air" are stacked with impressively cascading melodies that, while executed with supreme fluidity, somehow remain ruggedly earthbound and unfussy in their attitude. His fingerpicking is clean and confident, though not specifically technical, calling to mind U.K. greats like Dick Gaughan, Martin Carthy, and Nic Jones, the latter of whom he nods to on the traditional "Planxty Davis," a staple of Jones' 1980 masterwork, Penguin Eggs. The brief set, "Ruby's Freilach / Low Spirits," calls to mind some of the pieces from his collaborations with Elkington, hinting at fiddle tunes, dark blues, and even subtle modernist experimentation, particularly in the drawn-out repetition of the latter piece. Overall, though, these songs are meant to exist in a complete volume, tied together gracefully with a sweetness that belies their complexity.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger