Sarah Jarosz – a shining talent

I first became aware of this talented young songwriter and multi-instrumentalist a couple of years ago, and was extremely impressed by her first album Song Up In Her Head (Sugar Hill, 2009). Hailing from Wimberley, Texas, Sarah Jarosz was graduating from high school at the time of that first release. Since then she’s moved to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory and manages to combine her studies with a burgeoning musical career. Although her primary instrument is the mandolin, she also plays octave mandolin, guitar and clawhammer banjo, just for starters. Her instrumental virtuosity is more than matched by her rich, expressive voice and enviable songwriting talent, both in evidence once again on her second album. Follow Me Down (2011) is a very fine collection of original songs and tunes with the occasional interesting cover for good measure. Both albums feature guest appearances by a plethora of eminent musicians including Darrell Scott, Chris Thile, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien and Stuart Duncan, demonstrating just how much Sarah is appreciated by those she considers to be her influences and musical heroes.

About this time last year I finally got to experience Sarah’s music live when she toured along with her band mates Alex Hargreaves (fiddle) and Nathaniel Smith (cello), prodigious young talents in their own right. That gig at Sheffield Greystones was very well attended and an appreciative audience got to hear a range of Sarah’s originals as well as a handful of well-chosen covers, including an exquisite interpretation of Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate. This featured Sarah’s voice accompanied only by Nathaniel on cello, and was absolutely spellbinding. This week saw the return of the trio to Sheffield, and this time the Backroom at the Greystones was even busier, the concert having sold out some weeks before. Presumably this is in part thanks to Sarah’s appearance on the latest series of Transatlantic Sessions. The buzz around this young artist is growing and it may not be long before the trio is playing in considerably larger venues.

Once again the evening’s music was a delightful mix of Jarosz originals laced with a few sparkling covers. My Muse has a dreamy, otherworldly charm, while the catchy Annabelle Lee is driven along by Sarah’s clawhammer banjo. A clutch of songs from the first album included the melancholy Broussard’s Lament (concerning the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) and the gorgeous Edge of a Dream. Sarah switches seamlessly from banjo to mandolin, guitar to octave mandolin as each song demands, her lovely voice carrying us along. Nat’s fabulous cello playing ranges from energetic, rhythmic chopping to luscious long bowing and delicate plucking of the strings. Alex Hargreaves is equally impressive on the fiddle, providing both soaring solo breaks and discreet backup as required. The three musicians mesh incredibly well as a unit, and there is always a sense of the players serving the song first and foremost. The stand-out cover song for me this time was their interpretation of Joanna Newsom’s The Book of Right On, and they closed the show with a blazing set of Tim O’Brien instrumentals, Land’s End and Chasin’ Talon.

The tour continues over the next few days, so do catch Sarah, Nat and Alex if you can – some of the brightest young talent around. We are fortunate to be able to see and hear them in intimate venues here in the UK. Sarah will also be featured on this week’s edition of Loose Ends on BBC Radio 4.

Check out Sarah’s website for more tour news, song samples and lyrics.