Chris Bathgate – Salt Year

Chris Bathgate – No Silver

Chris Bathgate – Eliza (Hue)

Warning: I'll probably be doing quite a bit of gushing in this write-up. Michigan's Chris Bathgate has released his new album, Salt Year, and it's blend of folk, horns, strings, alt-country, and heartbreaking balladry make it my favorite release so far in 2011. Seriously, it's that good.

Chris Bathgate is an artist who seems to be listened to by everyone who's musical opinion I highly respect, but his work has never landed squarely on my lap begging to be listened to. Until now. On a whim, I heard a 30 second snippet from Salt Year and in a moment of weakness purchased the vinyl on the spot. After a couple weeks, the vinyl arrived and I still had yet to actually hear the album.

I've written before about how important a first listen is, and how the first track or album in a catalogue you hear seems to encode itself more heavily in your being than the surrounding work. I think the same sort of concept applies to the situation you find yourself in when first hearing an album. If you've never heard Abbey Road before and you throw it on a crappy cassette and listen while you're in a terrible mood on a roadtrip in your '67 Camaro, you're probably less inclined to listen again, parse your way through the songwriting, and emotionally connect to the music.

My first spin of Salt Year was a thing of beauty. I had just worked a 10 hour day at my intense and stressful job. I was pretty beat physically and mentally from a week's worth of work, lack of sleep, and general life issues. I ripped open the vinyl shaped box on my doorstep, grabbed a beer, put the wax on the table, and laid down on the floor surrounded by speakers.

When the opening notes of "Eliza (Hue)" started up, I floated into a half-conscious, blissful state of mind – enveloped in the beautiful folk sounds of Chris Bathgate. The sound and instrumentation on Salt Year is so deep and resonant it's like swimming through a pool and with each stroke you move aside a handful of water only to grab another.

It's hard to really characterize the sound. Bathgate's clearly a folk artist, but there are tinges of sounds wider and more ambitious that that insular genre. What I do know is that every track is full of little, singular moments that resonate deep into my subconscious. Each song has a life of it's own – growing and evolving with bursts of horns, strings, drum fills, electric guitar, vocal flourishes. I've always liked songs that reward you for listening and that's one of Bathgate's greatest strengths. The payoff that comes after allowing a song like "No Silver" to develop is priceless.

I really can't appropriately convey how great this album is, despite my hyperbolic gushing. Just go buy it, preferably on wax, and experience it for yourself. You've got the Those Who Dig guarantee.