Ambsace (pronounced aims-ace) is the second album of duets by guitarists James Elkington, who has toured and/or recorded with Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson, and Steve Gunn, among others, and Nathan Salsburg, an accomplished soloist deemed by NPR “one of those names we’ll all associate with American folk guitar,” accompanist to Joan Shelley, and the curator of the Alan Lomax Archive.
It's a sublime suite by two singular stylists, whose nimble, filigreed compositions sit alongside arrangements of songs by Duke Ellington and The Smiths at the same big hand-hewn table.
Ambsace was conceived as an antidote to getting soft in the fingers. Despite the playing done independently on both sides of I-65 (English-born James in Chicago, Nathan in his hometown of Louisville), both attest that there’s no guitaristic workout quite like playing with one another.
This second iteration of their twenty-finger collaboration achieves and sustains the limpid architectural elegance and rakish formality suggested by Avos, their debut album on Tompkins Square.
The new record was composed and recorded in James’ attic studio over two late summer sessions, one year apart. James and Nathan each brought in parts, with songs taking shape in some cases over many stifling hours (e.g., “Bee’s Thing”); in others, over a few manic minutes (e.g., “Stern and Earnest”).
Tunes grew out of constituent elements assembled like a round of Jenga, with the occasional crash to the floor and outbursts of laughter. Their ten new compositions and three covers offer an adequate representation of the influences brought to bear on the playing of Ambsace in particular, but also the players of Ambsace in general. It’s a cheeky title, as “ambsace” is a defunct term for the lowest roll of the dice; it’s also, perhaps more cheekily, something worthless or unlucky. But taken as the sum of it parts, “ambsace” in fact means a couple of aces.
Listen to “Up of Stairs”:
Ambsace Track Listing:
A1. Up of Stairs
A2. Invention #4
A3. Dim Recollection
A4. The Narrowing of Grey Park
A5. The Unhaunted Williams
A7. Reel Around the Fountain
B1. Great Big God of Hands
B2. Fleurette Africaine
B3. Bee’s Thing
B4. Rough Purr
B5. Stern and Earnest
B6. Slow Train
Pre order the album on iTunes here.