Dusky and deliberate, Chris Bathgate's music can be foreboding, even funereal. But the Michigan native invests his songs with warm, rustic beauty — aided by strings, slide guitars and other instruments of emotional devastation — that makes everything too pretty to function as a true downer. A bunch of us at NPR Music fell in love with Bathgate's gorgeous 2007 song "Serpentine," so we'd been looking forward to having him in for a Tiny Desk Concert, but a follow-up to that record took an agonizing four years. (Given that he describes his song "No Silver" as "about living in Michigan and being broke," maybe he was just saving up for the studio time?)
Bathgate didn't cut any corners in his Tiny Desk Concert this past summer, lugging in his full band to perform four songs from this year's fine Salt Year — he even had a friend bring pie to pass around in a successful attempt to curry our favor. The efforts to flesh out his sound paid off: Alternating brooding ballads ("Everything [Overture]," "Salt Year") with more assertive midtempo rockers ("No Silver," "Levee"), Bathgate and his band crafted a winningly moody and frequently exquisite sound — a marvelous showcase for an unassuming Midwesterner who deserves more attention than he gets.
- "Everything (Overture)"
- "No Silver"
- "Salt Year"
Michael Katzif (cameras); edited by Bob Boilen; audio by Michael Katzif and Kevin Wait; photo by Tucker Walsh/NPR