With commendable comparisons to the likes of folk songwriters Iron & Wine and Damien Jurado, and literary heroes John Steinbeck and Kurt Vonnegut listed as influencing his songwriting, Chris Bathgate’s fourth LP Salt Year charts a season of personal turmoil for the folk artist. “[The] songs are the battle cry for that time…a period of struggle punctuated by the tendrils of love and time”, the world weary twenty-something states.
Instrumentally rich, Salt Year, while exploring safe couplings of piano, electric guitar and see-sawing fiddle throughout, though most effectively on album opener ‘Eliza (hue)’, amalgamates these instruments in such a way that their sound and composition feel fresh, contemporary, and at once timeless. Offbeat percussion fleshes out and allows the musicality from becoming pigeonholed or restricted. Banjos are coupled with clamorous symbols and drums in No Silver, while Fur Curled on the Sad Road‘s titling suggests a set in stone sadness that is counteracted by the triumphant brass section marking its latter half, along with imagery pointing to new dawns and fresh starts: “tracing out the skylines in the morning frost”. The lyrics usually molding emotional fragility with the natural landscape around him: “the day it hangs upon my shoulders” splicing calm pastoral scenes with more often that not, urgent sounds and ragged, aged vocals.
It’s a record of great joy and pain which neatly couples itself with Bathgate’s cathartic recording process. He has marked himself as an adept lyricist and musician, constructing an alt-country affair tumultuous passion and despair in equal measure, and yet by the end we’re convinced of a little light relief and the thawing of this Salt Year.
Review by Melanie McGovern