Talent and sincerity inspire: new Sarah Jarosz album

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This is me standing on your desk until you stop what you’re doing and check out singer/songwriter Sarah Jarosz. Yes, I know what you’re doing is reading my blog. Go to Amazon’s MP3 store and start downloading her new album, which is just $5.99, and then come back and finish reading.

Follow Me Down has been out for a couple of days, during which I’ve constantly had it on repeat. Jarosz uses traditional acoustic instruments from the bluegrass (and great grandfather of bluegrass, Celtic) tradition to create immersive, precise and expressive compositions — and to cover songs by other artists in a way that makes you hear them anew. She shares this approach in common with the for-now-defunct Nickel Creek, which you may remember me name-checking in Felonious Jazz. Some of her stuff, particularly her instrumentals, reminds me very much of theirs. She also favors dark, old-timey ballads and plays them well. She’s a skilled player of the mandolin and clawhammer banjo, but her finest instrument is her dark-orange singing voice.

I discovered Sarah Jarosz when Sugar Hill Records, Nickel Creek’s label, sent me an email a couple years ago about her debut album, Song Up In Her Head. I listened to some samples and then went straight to Amazon and bought it. Here’s an excerpt from my review on Amazon:

Such amazing control of her pitch, with almost no trace of vibrato, and somehow she makes it seem effortless. It’s a deep, rich alto that reminds me at various moments of Fiona Apple, Melissa Swingle (Trailer Bride, The Moaners) and Karen Peris (Innocence Mission).

Her personal backstory — being barely out of high school — is fun and inspiring, but if someone played this album for you without telling you, you’d never know. Though her lyrics have the optimism and centeredness of youth, her voice sounds layered with 10 years of adulthood.

Come to Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Ms. Jarosz, and I’ll be in the front row. This is great work, and I look forward to your next albums.

(She’s now in her second year at the New England Conservatory.) Last fall, my wife gave me tickets to Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, held twice a year on an old North Carolina farm a couple of counties south of where we live, and Sarah was a mainstage act, and I got to keep my promise. I spent most of her set with my elbow on the edge of the stage. She had so much fun playing her songs (just her, no bandmates), and seemed, grateful, humble and even surprised by the audience’s adulation. I found myself identifying with her as a fellow geek finding his/her voice.

I also envy her degree of dedication to the artistic discipline to which she is called. So I’ll close with a lyrical snippet from “My Muse,” a track on the new album I first thought was about a boy but which turned out, in her typical old-soul fashion, to be something much deeper, a love song to the elusive state of artistic oneness/inspiration/virtuosity:

I cruise and conjure, sit and ponder, then go under the blanket of your words
The way I feel, the things I sing, the songs I write, the joy you bring to me, my muse.

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This article has 5 comments

  1. Domin Seven 07/06/2011, 10:37 pm:

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  2. Ebenstein 07/07/2011, 5:13 pm:

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  3. Hanz Zlick 07/10/2011, 10:36 am:

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  4. B Grahe 07/20/2011, 8:40 am:

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    • Bryan 07/20/2011, 10:00 am:

      B — I started with a WordPress template I purchased and then went in and tweaked it quite a lot. Glad you like it.

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