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Sarah Jarosz - And she turns just twenty tomorrow...

Donald Teplyske  |  May 22, 2011

In many ways, I lead a sheltered life. I don't listen to satellite radio and those few stations I do frequent don't, as far as I've noticed, favour Sarah Jarosz with substantial airplay. So it was only the other morning that I heard someone outside my head pronounce her surname.

Suffice to say, what I heard on CKUA (Alberta's listener supported radio network) sounded much more seemly than my own butchering of the nimble-voiced lass's name.

Having mostly missed her debut of a couple years back, I've been listening to "Follow Me Down" (Sugar Hill Records) for quite some time now and can't get enough of it. From the first listen driving to work early one April morning, I suspected this album was going to be special. Weeks of enjoyment have proven me correct in that assumption.

The first two songs, Run Away and Come Around- both self-written although the first shares credit with Alyssa Bonagura)- are as fine examples of the music I dubbed acoustiblue a decade ago as I've heard, this despite there being a bit of electric guitar (from Jacosz and John Leventhal) on the album's lead track.

I was ready to give a nod to Gillian Welch for writing Annabel Lee, but it appears this new song owes no small amount to a new Nashville cat I had missed named Poe. Edgar Allan.

Much of the glorious magic of the album's first ten minutes has to be credited to Chris Thile and his Nickel Creek partners, their participation absent as it is. Had that youthful band of upstarts not done what they did a decade and more ago, I'm not sure our ears- certainly my ears- would be ready to hear these spacious, layered sounds. Viktor Krauss's bass provides a voluminous sound that provides additional substance throughout these initial songs.

And from this initial blast of loveliness, things only get better.

Of course, the greatest credit for the success of "Follow Me Down" must be directed toward the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist herself. On various mandolins and guitars- and on a single song, banjo- the New England Conservatory of Music student demonstrates that the promise I've read so much about has been realized.

Yes, Jarosz is surrounded by some of the business's finest talents- Stuart Duncan, Jerry Douglas, Béla Fleck, and Mark Schatz here and there, Dan Tyminski, Sarah Siskind, Vince Gill, and Darrell Scott lend harmony throughout and The Punch Brothers- with Chris Thile on harmony and mando- on a single track, a cover of Radiohead's The Tourist.

Depending on who is reading this, you and I could lead such a group and it likely wouldn't sound terrible. Well, maybe you could- I'm pretty sure I could ruin such a gathering. But Jarosz most obviously possesses a special talent that rarely develops to the level it has in her at such an early age; she is the exception to my rule of not getting excited about anyone's musical output before they are twenty- and Wikipedia informs me that she beats that by only a day here at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass.

I could listen to this all day- heck, I listened to it for most of last night and more times than I can count this month. As her voice flexes and climbs with Darrell Scott's on Here and There- not delicate, thin, or fragile as one may mistakenly assume, but solid, strong, and formidable, one can't help but be impressed. There is something substantial here, something that suggests that this is but the beginning of a wonderful journey.

There are more than a few singer and musicians I remember hearing for the first time: Nanci Griffith. Bruce Springsteen. Guy Clark. I can't say I remember the first time I heard Jarosz sing. But I wish it was with this album, because I'm pretty sure I won't forget what I felt the first time I heard "Follow Me Down."

If roots music and chamber music ever came together, I think it might sound like this. It's fresh, it sounds and feels spontaneous. And it is very, very good. But, don't let my ineffectual writing dissuade you- if you are even the least bit adventurous in your roots music listening, track down Sarah Jarosz's sophomore effort, "Follow Me Down."

As always, thanks for visiting here at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass.

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