Here's what's surprising about guitarist Nathan Salsburg: He writes passionate instrumental tales about racehorses and turns them into accessibly eclectic tunes. With a brilliant debut album (Affirmed) full of intricate and melodic fingerpicking, Salsburg is likely to become one of those names we all associate with American folk guitar.
Salsburg knows something about American folk music, too: He's been an archivist at the Alan Lomax Archive, and has spent his share of time listening to and learning rare acoustic music by Rev. Gary Davis and Jelly Roll Morton. When Salsburg picks up the guitar, what comes out is a mix of blues and ragtime, but these are 21st-century rags from an old soul with new energy. He's been playing guitar for 22 years, yet he's only played out publicly for a few months.
The two tunes Salsburg plays in this Tiny Desk Concert are both inspired by great racehorses: The first celebrates the Triple Crown-winning horse Affirmed. The second, "Eight Belles Dreamt the Devil Was Dead," tells the tragic story of Eight Belles, who in 2008's Kentucky Derby tripped across the finish line, coming in second place, and tragically broke both her front ankles. The horse had to be euthanized on the field, an event documented in a few songs on Affirmed.
- "Eight Belles Dreamt the Devil Was Dead"
Producer and Editor: Bob Boilen; Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Doriane Raiman/NPR