Though it must have been a brutally sad goodbye when Sarah Jarosz left her longtime home of New York City in 2020, her new city suits her. Polaroid Lovers, the seventh studio album from the prolific songwriter with a voice of gold, is Nashville through and through. It has the buoyancy and spirit of the best ’90s country confections, more a vibe than anything technical. Whether or not Jarosz meant to pay tribute to the Martinas, the Trishas, and the Pattys, Polaroid Lovers listens like a love letter to the sound they mastered. Crafted in collaboration with renowned producer and writer Daniel Tashian in her now-home of Nashville, the album is her most sparkling outing yet, filled with country-pop gems that play to the enormity of Jarosz’s vocal strength.
Jarosz’s vocals soar to stratospheric heights on “Jealous Moon,” the banger that kicks things off, and she hardly lets up. This song, along with so many others on Polaroid Lovers — “Runaway Train,” “The Way It Is Now,” “Dying Ember” — basks in the big feelings stirred up by shimmery melodies and all-consuming choruses. Jarosz’s folk roots are still present here, but maybe more than ever before she is leaning into something a little louder and shinier, and it’s thrilling to hear. Jarosz is doing more than just trying on the bedazzled suit. She’s wearing the hell out of if under a bright spotlight, letting it bring out in her all the parts that were hidden before. Even in the album’s sparser moments, you get the sense that Polaroid Lovers is Jarosz taking a leap. She lands it so gracefully on tunes like the romantic “Mezcal and Lime,” about the dizzying effects of love, and the wistful ode to New York “Columbus and 89th,” which captures the heartbreak of longing for a place and suspending it in the most beautiful amber.
More than anything else, the thing that made those ’90s country queens stand out was their confidence, and that’s what Jarosz has lassoed on Polaroid Lovers. It’s a self-assuredness that sounds so fantastic on her. There’s a co-write with fellow modern-day country queen Natalie Hemby, “Good At What I Do,” which seems to find Jarosz right on the cusp of fully living in this chapter. “Am I good at what I do? / Do I live up to the kings? / Will my words go on forever / When my voice no longer sings?” she wonders. If Polaroid Lovers is any indication, the answer is a full-throated yes.
Sarah Jarosz’s Polaroid Lovers is out Jan. 26 on Rounder Records.