Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down

CD Review Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down

by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

1. Runaway
2. Come Around
3. Annabelle Lee
4. Ring Them Bells
5. My Muse
6. Floating In The Balance
7. Old Smitty  
8. The Tourist
9. Here Nor There
10. Gypsy
11. Peace
Sugarhill Records
Release Date – 17 May 2011
Time – 39:13
On this her sophomore album Wimberley, Texas native, multi-instrumentalist and bluegrass prodigy Sarah Jarosz will release, this new collection, less than a week before her 20th birthday. On her debut SONG UP IN HER HEAD she choose to adopt an traditional approach but here with FOLLOW ME DOWN she spreads her wings exploring new avenues, trying out fresh ideas with joyful abandonment.
Having moved from her Texas home to live in Boston, where she is studying at the New England Conservatory (The oldest independent school of music in America), this 11 track recording represents a new phase in her life. Due to her academic obligations the recordings had to scheduled, mostly taking place in Music City along with sessions in New York and Boston where she was able to call upon her tour support trio buddies Alex Hargreaves (fiddle) and Nat Smith (cello). Jarosz is credited as the album producer ably assisted by Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Chris Thile) as co-producer.
With the erratic beat of drums (Shannon Forrest) and innovative improvisation by proficient banjo player Béla Fleck this demonstrates the sonic experimentation on the first single ‘Come Around’. It’s a personal song, trying to make sense of the twists and turns in a relationship. Sarah’s voice is distinctive, whilst capturing the anxiety of those feelings, and it shows a level of maturity beyond her years. Darrell Scott adds vocal harmony on this mid-paced affair.
The gorgeous, airy and atmospheric opener ‘Runaway’ evolved in a writing session whilst experimenting with different tunings with young songwriter Alyssa Bonagura the daughter of Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura who were the major players in American group Baillie & the Boys, popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The tune tells a romantic tale on a moonlit starry evening as a couple escapes to affirm their love. Delightful touches are evident via John Leventhal (electric guitar), Nathaniel Smith (cello), and Viktor Krauss (bass) while Shawn Colvin adds harmony, continuing the trend of top names to grace this album. In fact this track is something that would not be out of place on a Colvin project.
On the raucous ‘Annabelle’ here she adapts an Edgar Allen Poe poem for this bluegrass-inspired offering. It features the unmistakable harmony of Dan Tyminski. Fellow Union Station member Jerry Douglas (lap steel) interplays with Jarosz showcasing her claw-hammer banjo aptitude, to create a strong Celtic brew.
The softly ‘Ring Them Bells’ is one of two compositions that Jarosz did not have a hand in. A favourite Bob Dylan song for her, “the lyrics pertain to our time” she says. A song she always looks forward to performing at her live shows, whether she can call up the much in demand Vince Gill (harmony vocal) every night is another matter.
Growing up listening to many music styles Sarah decides to give a modern-day bluegrass twist on the Radiohead number ‘The Tourist’. She is joined by The Punch Brothers whose member Chris Thile she met jamming backstage at a festival, to whom she cites as a major influence in pushing her own musical boundaries.
Self penned album highlight ‘My Muse’ is a haunting, dreamy masterpiece which immediately draws you in with her compelling vocal. It’s easy to lose yourself in a world of contentment on this acoustic gem. The feeling is beautiful and effecting – the songs you write, the joy you bring Miss Jarosz!
The floaty ‘Here Nor There’ allows beating rhythms to challenge the deepest sea waves but as they reach a distant shore perhaps on this occasion the listener’s attention is in danger of getting washed up like driftwood.
Like a back-porch session observing a beautiful traveller across the way, the sparse and wispy ‘Gypsy’ brings to mind Mindy Smith as it’s both crafted and vocally delivered very much in her vein – no bad thing!
The fast paced ‘Old Smitty’ and in contrast the delicate slow tempo closer ‘Peace’ are two instrumental pieces, one showing an adventurous groove the other a soft virtuosic delight. One wonders if Alison Krauss may be seeking a new female recruit to her fold. When comparing the two, Jarosz doesn’t quite match her spell-weaving impact but is most certainly worthy of immediate attention by music lovers in the UK especially with a July 2011 tour on the horizon, including a stop off at The Summertyne Festival in Gateshead.

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