“We were talking earlier about the time you get to the end of your life, and all the time you spent tuning you could get back,” Jarosz joked to a decidedly older crowd.
“One can only dream,” she smiled.
At only 25-years-old, Sarah Jarosz already has four albums under her belt. A critically-acclaimed songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist (she is known as a bluegrass prodigy by way of her banjo, mandolin and guitar), Jarosz is one of the few rising talents whose affinity for songwriting has the ability to reach both critical and commercial success.
On the brink of releasing her fourth studio album Undercurrent, due June 17 under Sugar Hill Records, Jarosz reveals that this album “feels like my first record, in the sense that it was the first time I could focus all of my energy on it.”
She continues on her website, “Everything felt like it was leading to this moment.”
And for good reason. Jarosz released her first album Song Up in Her Head at 18 during her senior year of high school. Following, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in 2009, released her second album Follow Me Down in 2011, and graduated with honors in 2013 with the release of her third album, the Grammy-nominated Build Me Up From Bones for Best Folk Album, later that year.
The album’s title track reveals her innate ear for lush, rich acoustics matched with expressive vocals. And it’s easy to see just from one listen why that song was nominated for Best American Roots Song.
But Jarosz’s newest album Undercurrent signifies a stronger, more focused shift in Jarosz’s songwriting career.
“It’s the first record I’ve made while not simultaneously being in high school or college. [And] it’s the first record I’ve made since moving to New York City almost three years ago,” she tells Consequence of Sound.
The album’s single “House of Mercy,” (which she played with mesmerizing, transcending magic Sunday night at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley) has that haunting, Civil Wars-esque vibe full of rich, textured instruments and intense vocals by Jarosz.
Her trio, bare yet complete with just a backing cellist and accompanying guitarist, played with quiet intensity that made the whole room stand still.
In some moments she would have a mandolin war against the rich, low cellist, showcasing her and her bandmates’ remarkable ability to weave and intertwine beautiful, screeching, percussive bluegrass sounds in a circular fashion. In others she would take on fan favorites, such as her cover of Tom Waits’ “Come On Up to the House,” which she closed the night off with high energy and communal sing-alongs.
But the moment she came back onstage with just her and her electric guitar to close with her album’s last song “Jacqueline,” Jarosz put on no frills.
She carried her songs with instrumental prowess and humility; she shared the stage with mutual respect of the audience and band, as the camaraderie between her and bandmates made us all feel included; and her quiet maturity and undeniable talent inspired the whole room.
There’s something to be said about a talent that can move a whole room with just a few bluegrass instruments and a singular voice. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t a lot of musicians I know who can make me feel utter heartbreak and sober intensity matched with a tinge of hope all at the same time. And in a venue as stripped-down and intimate as the Freight & Salvage, Jarosz won me over.
Undercurrent is available everywhere on Friday, June 17.
Other favorites include album newcomers “Early Morning Light” and “Green Lights”–two songs with the mystical twang of upstreaming rivers accompanied by lightly plucked strings and Jarosz’s airy, angel-like vocals. “Comin’ Undone,” a slightly upbeat track that stands out from Jarosz’s discography, is full of bluesy licks and a backing organ that expresses the simple joy of music–and Jarosz–letting herself come undone.