Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down – First Impression? Fantastic Record.
It’s been 2 years since her first record, Song Up In Her Head, debuted. I’m a little ashamed to say that I got a copy from my mom, who is needless to say less “engaged” with the new and awesome in the world of acoustic music (no offense, mom). When she gave it to me, I threw it into my car stereo and there it remained for the next several months. No lie, I was hooked on that record. So much so that I was a little surprised when I heard that Follow Me Down was coming out today.
After a few passes, this LP has just as much going for it as the old one. One major difference: the maturity. Her sweet, sultry voice is far more hypnotic and enchanting than her age would imply (she’s only 19). This record, with it’s all-star personnel and rich, breathy texutre, shows off Sarah’s “coming of age” as a well developed songwriter, arranger, vocalist and instrumentalist.
At first I was surprised at the slickness of the record, which I mistakenly chalked up to overproduction and a lot of cosmetic work. I thought I was hallucinating when familiar voices and instruments started to come out of the woodwork, especially Bela’s hypnotic banjo work coupled with Casey Driessen’s distinctive fiddle on “Come Around” (easily one of my favorite tunes on the album), Punch Brother’s inclusion on the Radiohead cover “The Tourist”, and Jerry Douglass’s unmistakeable dobro throughout the whole release. On the second go around (and after having read some press materials on the release), it dawned on me: the album wasn’t overproduced, rather it had so many world-class acoustic musicians on every track, that the release couldn’t sound less professional if it tried. All of the stellar guest stars on this LP really show that Jarosz has support from some of the biggest names in acoustic music, a vote-of-confidence that’s simply hard to ignore.
The record was a lot less mando-centric, but it featured plenty of great octave mandolin, clawhammer banjo and straigh 6-string playing by Jaraosz. Her instrumental chops are far less front and center on this release, but her “left-of-center approach” to playing complements the all-star personnel lineup nicely. Her voice is always right in the pocket and drives each tune forward while maintaining an almost hypnotic hold on your attention as you wander from track to track.
Sarah’s voice also has a distinctively more self-assured and well-developed sound on this record than on her debut release. She seems more confident in her playing and songwriting and more expertly pushes and pulls the ensembles through the compositions, not once giving the impression that the wheels might fall off. Jarosz’s ability to take acoustic music to simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar places in numbers like “Run Away”, “Come Around”, “Floating in the Balance” and “Here nor There” are a testament to her strength and confidence as a writer and indicate why she appeals to an unusually wide range of demographics.
However, what truly stands out to me on this release are the tunes that best straddle the line between traditionalism and original songwriting. Just take a listen to “Annabelle Lee” or “Old Smitty” and try to tell me you thought that you thought the 19 year-old Jarosz wrote it. Seriously. They sound like they are great Crooked Still covers of “Angeline the Baker” or something. Breathy, in-your-face, real, emotional, heartfelt all with the old storytelling conventions and instrumental runs that make old tunes great tunes.
Overall, a really balanced approach to acoustic music, that effortlessly hypnotizes and invigorates as it expertly straddles the traditional and original. I, for one, am convinced that she has a long way to go and a fantastic career in front of her. I’m excited by everything she puts out and can’t wait for more great things.
She’s got me. Hook. line. sinker.
The album is available for full streaming at AOL Music.