The sophomore full-length from Brooklyn’s Prairie Empire is a moving, unexpected departure from their folky, self-titled debut. In the four years between albums, Brittain Ashford and her band developed a more sophisticated sound, one that expands beyond the four walls of the bedroom into cinematic terrain. Calm moments give way to fevered climaxes, strings and reeds humming as Ashford’s mournful, whiskey-soaked alto floats above the chaos. Inspired by the quietude of Elliott Smith and the dynamism of Jeff Buckley, Ashford directs her melancholic vocals through lush, atmospheric arrangements, oscillating between grief and anticipation.Ashford (vocals, guitars, arrangements, etc.) and Nim Ben-Reuven (drums, drawings of cats) met by chance while getting copies made in Manhattan. They became friends and Ben-Reuven joined the Empire. For this record, the duo filled out their sound with Brent Arnold (cello; The Antlers, Reggie Watts, Modest Mouse), Jeff Hudgins (clarinet, sax, bari-sax), Danah Olivetree (cello), Alec Spiegelman (pump organ; Cuddle Magic), Scott Colberg (additional guitar) and Matt Bauer (vox). It’s fair to say that Prairie Empire has entered a larger world; The Salt surveys the land around them with power and subtlety.2016 will be a busy year for Ashford. In addition to a cross-country tour in support of The Salt, she’s making her Broadway debut at The Imperial this fall in the acclaimed electro-pop opera Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Composer Dave Malloy wrote Ashford’s solo, “Sonya Alone,” with her voice in mind; she performed in the Off-Broadway production of Great Comet for two years, earning raves from Variety, New York Daily News, Time Out NY, and The Boston Globe.