James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg: Avos

The opening track on Avos, by James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg, “Hospitality”, has a sneaky, adventure feeling to it. One guitar holds down a somewhat dark undertone while the accompaniment dances happily, almost mischievously on top. “A Free Amift” sounds like the teenager-coming-of-age moment; an innocent melody breaks for two beats during the chorus as a sort of awakening and the wind chimes in the background give the whole song a positive feeling of uncertainty.

“Sedentary Song” is the first track that has somewhat of a backcountry blues vibe, and it’s definitely darker though not angry. If it were to be released as a single, “Fez and Guinness” would be it B side- this next song seems to exploring a lost love, or something regrettable, and with help of an added violin part, portrays a sadness and longing.

While the album flows nicely to this point, the next two songs are nothing particularly memorable and the general sound is so similar throughout that there becomes a longing for some drums, maybe a bass line. The seventh selection, also the title track, is perhaps the oddest of them all, but at least it’s different than what’s been going on the last six songs. It starts out with creepy sound effects, guitars slowly coming in and building this great crescendo and decrescendo, but lacking in any definable climax.

“Believer Field” is another slow one, but not uninteresting. The duo picks up their pace and volume, opening the song up like a garden welcoming spring, and play a step-down scale which makes it feel innocent and exploratory.

Again, with this next track, I have the feeling that each song sounds too similar for the general public to appreciate. Sure, the enthusiast will be able to hear the tiniest differences and make sense of every intricacy, but songs like “The Blurring Cogs” leave something to be desired.

In contrast, “Straight Up and Down” is possibly the most interesting song on the album; its minor chords and unusual juxtapositions change the mood from sneaky to bubbly in one fell swoop. This song sounds like a child hiding hid bad behavior from mom and dad. With the slower surprise ending, it seems his parents may have caught on.

The last two tracks round the album out nicely. “The Queue Outside the Night Ministry” features some very impressive finger picking work, reminiscent of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s intense style, and “Scarborough Fore and Aft” serves as a good summation of the album. It showcases Elkington and Salsburg’s awesome picking skills, their quirky affinity for darker undertones and contrasting melodies. Overall, the album is a very high quality display of their ability, but doesn’t make a lasting impression.

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