The best and brightest in the acoustic world move the music forward with an awareness of what came before them; that is certainly true of Sarah Jarosz. On her second album for Sugar Hill Records, Follow Me Down, she pays homage to her musical roots while pushing beyond those sometimes limited boundaries, taking us on a journey both dark and mystical. For this, Sarah has a simple yet telling explanation: "Im influenced by the older, and the contemporary, and the new." Her approach to acoustic music is invigorating; she gives equal attention to playing, singing, and writing, choosing songs that embrace both old timey and modern sounds.
Jaroszs new albumdue out six days before her twentieth birthdaytakes up where her acclaimed debut, Song Up In Her Head, left off, but also expands her palette significantly. "I definitely could have just made a record that was similar to the last onepretty rootsy," she reflects. "That would have been a representation of a side of me. But I have all these new sounds and ideas and I just didnt want to hold back on this one."
The Wimberley, Texas native went looking for those ideasshe didnt sit back and wait for them to come to her. Instead of going straight to work as a full-time musician, as many before her have done, she left her hometown30 miles outside of Austinand headed to Bostons New England Conservatory to study contemporary improvisation on the NEC Presidential Merit scholarship.
"I wanted something to push me out of my comfort zone," Sarah says. "I wanted to be playing things that I might not normally play." And she has had plenty of opportunities to do just that, from playing and singing with Jewish and world music ensembles at school to sitting in on wildly unpredictable live jams with the Punch Brothers and Mumford & Sons.
Sarah makes the most out of her immersion in new flavors. "Its all so fun and exciting," she shares. "Thats not to say that Im going to become a world music musician. But being exposed to all of that and learning it and absorbing it, it becomes part of your musical language and something that you can use in your own way to make what you do more unique." That keen, open-minded attitude speaks volumes about her maturity.
In the two years since Sarahs first album came out, the wider world has discovered what plenty of old-time and bluegrass luminaries and festival-going fans already knewthat she is a formidable talent. There have been GRAMMY and Americana Music Award nominations, a trio of Austin Music Awards, invitations to perform on "Austin City Limits" and "A Prairie Home Companion" and at Bonnaroo, Newport and Telluride.
For Jarosz, all this has meant lugging around four instrument casesone holding her mandolin, another her octave mandolin and the final two her clawhammer banjo and acoustic guitarwhile keeping up with her tonal harmony and American lit classes. It was in the midst of this heady, buzzing season that she once again teamed up with acoustic guru Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Chris Thile) as co-producer.