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Sarah Jarosz

Follow Me Down – 2011 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Sarah Jarosz

For those of us who have been around long enough to remember browsing through long racks of LPs at the local record store (remember them?), one of the oldest tricks in evaluating an album from a new, unknown artist is to scan the liner notes to see who the sidemen are - the principle being, you can judge an artist by the company he or she keeps. In the CD age, that's not always possible since the credits are often shrink-wrapped away on the inside, but in the case of Sarah Jarosz, it's a pretty remarkable supporting cast. If names like Vince Gill, Stuart Duncan, Jerry Douglas, Shawn Colvin, Chris Thile, Bela Fleck and Dan Tyminski (and this is a short sampling) don't ring a bell, then you haven't been paying attention to the acoustic American music scene of the last two or three decades.

On her own merits, Jarosz is one of those artists for whom the "Americana" label seems almost to have been invented. The 11 tracks draw from a variety of influences, from old time to Celtic, yet not one of them fits any standard label, and that is perhaps one of the album's fundamental charms. Jarosz has an expressive voice that matches the material (nearly all of it her own originals) in tone and style, without the vocal gymnastics and histrionics usually found in pop music.

On top of it all, she's a quality picker, the best example being her octave mandolin work on Old Smitty. The overall mood is thoughtful and reserved, yet never approaching tedious, pretentious navel-gazing. Purists of whatever stripe will likely find this disc unsatisfying, but for those who don't consider "eclectic" a dirty word, it will be very enjoyable.