Chris Bathgate: Salt Year

Chris Bathgate: Salt Year

When Chris Bathgate sings “Well, I don’t get by on a happy tune” in the first verse of Salt Year’s “Borders,” the Michigan-based singer-songwriter might as well be summarizing his entire discography. But Bathgate has never plumbed misery for misery’s sake, and on this, his first LP in four years, there’s a welcome hint of triumph in the personal trials Bathgate and band swaddle in layers of stormy guitar, lonesome fiddle, and clattering percussion. Or at the very least, in nerve-steeling catharsis: “In The City” announces itself with a squelchy fanfare before drifting away atop swaying Muscle Shoals brass; “Levee” finds forward momentum in a rising tide of six-string sustain and drums that flit between stereo channels. The carefully constructed arrangements belie the record’s lengthy gestation, but the aching delivery of the title track hasn’t lost any immediacy in the time since its initial bow on 2008’s Wait, Skeleton EP. The song’s closing intonation—“Try again”—reads as trite, but in Bathgate’s trembling baritone, it’s a rallying cry for the not-yet-defeated. Happiness might not be Bathgate’s forte, but Salt Year proves he isn’t resigned to wallowing, either.

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