(Sugar Hill Records)
"Song Up In Her Head" is the title of the excellent debut album by singer, songwriter and mulit-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz. Hailing from Austin, Texas, Jarosz’ album is a wonderful example of the music being made by the newer generation of roots music artists who are staking their ground in this new century, doing it their way. These are young musicians that have been schooled in old time and bluegrass music yet listen to other current genres of music and are bringing new songs and new perspectives to the table. Being that Jarosz is only 18 years old, her music is inherently contemporary yet played through the warm ping of traditional roots music instruments. She is a fan of Tony Rice and Vassar Clements, yet is also a fan of the Decemberists and Gnarls Barkley. Thoroughly modern Sarah, the sounds on “Song Up In My Head” are atmospheric and flowing yet just quirky enough to be on the sunny side of indiosyncratic.
The project is co-produced by Jarosz and top producer and board man Gary Paczosa. Eleven of the 13 cuts are Jarosz originals including two new instrumentals, which is always cool to find on a singer/songwriter’s album. In other words, while there is plenty of singer/songwriter fare on here including one prerequisite ‘piano song,’ Jarosz does more than just strum a guitar or play the piano while singing. She is an accomplished musician whose talents extend to the mandolin, guitar and the clawhammer banjo, all of which she plays on the album. The first of Jarosz’ instrumentals is “Mansinneedof.” Virtuosic yet fun, it features Jarosz on mandolin, Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, Paul Kowert on bass and Mike Marshall on second mandolin. The second equally impressive instrumental is “Fischer Store Road” and it features Jarosz on clawhammer banjo, Hargreaves on fiddle, Samson Grisman on bass and Jerry Douglas on squareneck Dobro.
Jarosz’ generation could be described as the Nickel Creek generation, young musicians who have followed the path set down by the open-minded newgrass musicians of 30-plus years ago yet whom bring a 21st century attitude to the party. They are musicians who are teenagers or are in their 20s or early 30s right now in 2009, not in 1975. The talent brought in to play on this album reflect that dynamic. On the older newgrass generation side of things, the guest pickers include Jerry Douglas, Mike Marshall, Stuart Duncan, Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Kenny Malone, Byron House and Mark Shatz. The younger new acoustic side of the guest musicians list includes Chris Thile, Samson Grisman, Aoife O'Donavan, Ben Sollee, Abigail Washburn, Alex Hargreaves, Sarah Suskind, Chris Eldredge, Paul Kowert, Tim Lauer and Luke Reynolds.
I first wrote about Jarosz in Gritz six years ago when she was 11 years old. The article was about the 2003 International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) convention week and yearly award show. Titled “Bluegrass Rules At The 2003 IBMAs,” the article features the following passages;
“There is also a performance by the younger pickers on the scene today. Musician Pete Wernick, of the group Hot Rize, has put together the best of today’s young talent to pick a song for the crowd. Tonight’s group features Maggie Beth Estes, Sarah Jarosz, Will Jones, Corey Walker, and Sierra Hull. The average age of these amazing pickers is about 13 years old. About ten years ago another group of young pickers performed similarly at the IBMA and went on to be stars in the business. After the modern day youngsters are through playing the so-called ‘old young pickers’ from ten years ago, Josh Williams, Brady Stodgill, Chris Thile, Mike Cleveland and Cody Kilby, come out to perform as well. The crowd loves it.”
Obviously, if this exceptional first album is any indication, there is a lot more great music to come from Sarah Jarosz. If you seek out the music of this current generation, following the path of any of the younger musicians mentioned above, Jarosz’ new album should be placed firmly into that fertile ground. It is one to be put into the mix of music that you would listen to while traveling on a country road, on a mountain parkway or on an ocean drive. Or as Jarosz puts it in the title cut, “From a town that gets old/ To the city that’s new/ This flame burns brighter/ With every poem read/ This bird flies higher/ With a song up in her head.”