Having only just turned 25, it’s remarkable to consider how much Sarah Jarosz has already packed into her professional life. A prodigious ability on banjo and mandolin led to her playing bluegrass festivals in Texas at the age of 11. By the time she was in her final year at high school she’d been signed by Sugar Hill, for whom she’s now released four studio albums. Factor in her recent graduation from the New England Conservatory Of Music, an extended period on the road co-hosting A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, plus dates with Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins as part of super-trio I’m With Her, and you can only applaud her sheer plurality.
Notwithstanding all that, Undercurrent feels like a significant moment in her career. It’s a record that finds Jarosz largely dispensing with the leftfield bluegrass of her previous solo work, its palette instead defined by acoustic guitars and a more singer-songwriterly approach to folk and country. These are songs about the choices we make, the paths we take and the things we leave behind, a deep meditation on the invisible currents that guide us.
Her silvery voice is a perfect navigator, as supple as it is dauntless, particularly on the gorgeous “Green Lights”, which sounds as beguiling as anything by Laura Veirs. The dark “House Of Mercy”, co-written with long-term collaborator Jedd Hughes, is a rootsy duet freighted with the spirit of Steve Earle; “Take Another Turn” asks what it means to be lost; the determined strum and vaporous organ of “Comin’ Undone”, with Parker Millsap, is an exhortation to hold tight to the world no matter what fate chucks at you. There are discreet additions, too. Pedal steel adds to the ruminative quality of “Back Of My Mind”, while the steady churn of a banjo takes “Lost Dog” into mountain folk territory, as does its cheeky appropriation of the lyric from the old traditional, “In The Pines”. Undercurrent is an enthralling journey from source to mouth.
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