The Silver Jews' 1996 recording, The Natural Bridge continues the band's shift from their early, sprawling racket into a smooth foil for David Berman's laid-back vocals and evocative lyrics. When sessions with original Jews Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich and with members of the Scud Mountain Boys didn't work out the way Berman hoped, they were scrapped; the final version of The Natural Bridge was recorded in the summer of 1996 at Hartford, CT's Studio .45, which was originally a gun factory.
New Radiant Storm King's Peyton Pinkerton and Matt Hunter, Drag City producer/sessionman Rian Murphy, and keyboardist Michael Deming joined Berman in this version of the Jews' lineup, resulting in a more spacious sound than on any of the group's previous recordings. The Natural Bridge is also darker than the band's previous work, with lyrics like "I think we may be losing now/Please guard my bed" from "Pet Politics" and "Burnout tramp/Waits by the ramp/For one more car" from "Ballad of Reverend War Character." However, this darkness blends and contrasts with the wry, wistful "Dallas" and "Pretty Eyes." "The Frontier Index" combines jokes and a beautiful, descending guitar line for a really nice mix of ideas and emotion. Though The Natural Bridge lacks some of the immediacy of the Jews' earlier work, and Berman's voice slips into a monotone occasionally, this album offers some of the Silver Jews' finest moments.