Sarah Jarosz – The New 45 (Sugar Hill, 2010)
With this two-song release, the nineteen-year-old singer/songwriter/string player bridges her acoustic bluegrass to a more progressive sound, and demonstrates a keen understanding of modern music marketing. While artists still issue albums, there’s a greater need to keep a constant flow of music in listener’s ears, and reverting to the time-honored pre-album single – but in digital form – is a savvy move. This “digital 45” includes a new original song, “My Muse,” that will appear on her second album, and a cover of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” as a “B-side.” The latter is not slated for the album, giving it the sheen of a collector’s item. Jarosz continues to astound with the fluidity of her singing, and on “My Muse” she offers a piece whose chorus evokes Rubber Soul-era Beatles, but whose sonics are more modern in their echo-y richness. Her studio recording of “Grandma’s Hands” is restrained in comparison to her gospel-tinged concert readings, and the bass-fiddle-mandolin arrangement hasn’t the bottom-end soul and beat that so effectively underlined Bill Withers’ original. In addition to her concert schedule (which is necessarily lightened by her college studies), this is a great way to keep her music on fans’ radar.