Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sarah Jarosz's new album Undercurrent is a pivotal marker in her career

Sarah Jarosz could possibly be tired of Gillian Welch comparisons (although probably not), but her music is so emotionally complex and sonically mature there just aren’t many other comparisons to be made. Her latest, Undercurrent (Sugar Hill Records), shows a singer/songwriter that’s willing to explore the depths of life, both internal and external, and craft timeless melodies around her discoveries. The bluegrassy roots out front in her early work are used sparingly here, heard more as subtle foundations, which allows her voice and raw melodic approach to carry the songs. What is out front is Sarah’s confidence and ease of exposing the nerve endings scraped raw by the ephemeral nature of young love, both true and forbidden.

I guess I'll stand right here and hold my tongue
Maybe I'm not the only one
'Cause do you feel this undercurrent
And the changing of the tides?
When I'm with you, baby
We've got everything to hide

--Everything To Hide

One of her most impressive abilities is to take under-represented acoustic instruments; such as an octave mandolin, cello, and open-back banjo, and bring forth sonically fresh sounds that are directly in the Americana music landscape, but also weave in and out of the terrestrial and angelic. (Again, there’s only one other musician comparable here--it must be lonely at the top for these two.)

Jarosz’s singing voice, which, in my opinion, seems to be overshadowed by her songwriting and instrumental abilities, is so full and natural that it easily carries the stripped down nature of these songs. In “Take Another Turn” her voice exudes the confidence of an eternal seeker “What does it mean to be hungry? / Hungry and hunting and wild / And only the best will allow you to rest / till you’re hungry again come the morning time”

In the tracks “Back Of My Mind” and “Comin' Undone” Jarosz slyly introduces us to her electric side with a pedal steel, an electric guitar, and a B3 organ, all composed and played with such taste and patience you’d be forgiven for not being consciously aware of their presence. The effect is an underlying sense of young American angst with all the genuine honesty you’d expect out of the 25 year old Jarosz.

Undercurrent is not an album about love, it’s an album that confronts the loss of love as coming-of-age requirement to be faced head-on before any possibility of real love can be realized. It’s an album that knows nothing real can ever be gained through starry-eyed romanticism, but that only embracing and understanding the depths of heartbreak can we learn who we truly are and where we are going. The realism of the emotional revelations and the surprising reminder of how much “new” can still be found within these “old” instruments makes this album not just a success, but a pivotal marker in Sarah’s long career ahead.

--Brian Paul Swenk

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