Sarah Jarosz: Song Up In Her Head
Ok; first things first. You pronounce this girl’s name Juh-rose.
Sarah Jarosz is just eighteen years old and has emerged from the production-line of talent that is America’s bluegrass scene. It seems to be quite as vibrant as the folk music scene here in the Highlands which successfully nurtures talent right from primary school age until the best and most dedicated of them emerge onto the professional scene a dozen years later. As far as the bluegrass scene is concerned, Sarah is as spectacular an arrival as Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss were before her.
First and foremost, Sarah’s a mandolin player and there’s plenty of evidence of her virtuosity throughout this album. The Grammy-nominated instrumental Mansinneedof (no, I’ve no idea where the title comes from) is pretty stunning: two mandolins, fiddle and bass flying along with the best of any bluegrass star players you can think of. Once you’ve taken her playing on board, there’s her singing to consider. Tim O’Brien, no less, provides liner notes in which he declares she’s “flat got it” as a singer. She’s not pure and clear in the Alison Krauss way; rather she’s got power and depth and an edge that would be suited to jazz or blues. Somewhere, perhaps, between Ricky Lee Jones and Maria Muldaur.
And then there’s her writing; now, ok, she’s inclined to write about her dreaming heart but then so she should at her age. Thing is, there’s quite a wise head on those young shoulders and her songs have a perspective that seems to belong to someone who’s been around rather longer than just eighteen years – seventeen, I suppose, at the point where she wrote these songs. At my advanced age, I’d rather listen to a blistering instrumental than to the travails of a young heart but then I get to the song Tell Me True, have a happy smile to myself and check, then check again, that it really was written by Sarah and is not some old traditional folk song.
Two covers included on the album extend the scope beyond familiar territory. The Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan song, Come On Up To The House, is playful, joyful and full of self-confidence, featuring some lovely jazzy bass playing from Samson Grisman. A more surprising choice is The Decembrists’ Shankill Butchers, taken as a rather creepy anti-lullaby, a warning to a child to take heed of mother or the bogeymen will get you. It’s good, but it does genuinely give me the creeps and I can’t help feeling we’re too close to the actual events perpetrated by these thugs for it to be mythologised already. Mm. Can’t make my mind up on that one.
Anyway, if you’re into bluegrass and you haven’t come across her already, I promise you will be hearing a lot of Sarah Jarosz. If she’s good enough for Sugar Hill Records at 17, then I reckon she’s more than likely the next big thing.
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