She sings with an emotion that matches her lyrics and has a voice that is frequently compared to Gillian Welch. And yet she has a uniqueness of her own that most assuredly will have people comparing other singers to her one day.
She is singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz and she’s coming to the Sacramento area April 27, bringing with her a musical talent that’s grabbed the attention of critics nationwide.
With three highly-acclaimed albums to her name, Jarosz has been nominated for a Grammy 3 times, featured on Austin City Limits, labeled a “newgrass” prodigy, and played at countless music festivals and concert venues across the nation. Oh yeah, and she’s only 22.
“I’m inspired by those things that seem really simple but maybe there’s some more complex stuff going on beneath it,” the young-but-mature Jarosz said of how music inspires her. “I’ve always been really drawn to artists who don’t just do one thing really great—people who are great singers and great songwriters and great musicians and have a little bit of it all going on…[it] sparks my creative juice and makes me want to do the same.”
Her attempt to do a little bit of everything, to stretch herself musically, and to make it her own is what has critics applauding. When asked to describe her musical style, she said a lot of people would call it Bluegrass. But with her third album, Build Me Up From Bones, she thinks what she’s doing now is more Folk or Americana.
What she loves about Folk music is that it’s meant to be shared with people. “I mean, it’s called folk music,” Jarosz laughingly pointed out.
Her roots are still Bluegrass, though–it being the spark that ignited her love for acoustic music when, after picking up a mandolin at 10 years old, she began attending weekly Bluegrass jams in her hometown of Austin, TX.
“I just fell in love with the scene and people,” she said. “It was the communal aspect of the music—really feeling the sense of camaraderie with the musicians you play with.”
Whether you call it Bluegrass, Folk, or Americana, Jarosz says it’s all acoustic. And all fun. “That’s why I fell in love with it, because it was just fun to do,” said Jarosz. “And that’s kind of been the thread that’s kept me wanting to do it.”
Having grown up in a musical home, Jarosz says she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing or playing music in some form. She started writing her own songs at 12 or 13, and by 16, her songwriting talent along with her smooth voice and instrumental abilities in mandolin, banjo, and guitar opened an opportunity to play at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which led to a signing with Sugar Hill Records.
Everything up until now has happened naturally, she says—about as naturally as her musical talent comes to her and as expectedly as someone who is always looking for the chance to grow musically or personally.
“I’m always trying to evolve,” Jarosz said. “It’s really important to me to find outlets to experience something new and challenge myself in new ways, and that ultimately winds up reflecting in my music…That’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s kind of endless.”
Jarosz’s passion for growth expresses itself not only in her music, but also in her decision to go college amid the demands of a budding music career. Having graduated just last year from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Jarosz says it was a difficult balancing act but she’s thankful for the experience that she said she pursued because she wanted to push herself beyond the music she’d created up to the point. Bones is a product of that growth in many ways.
“Vocally I feel like I’ve grown a lot of over the last 4 years,” Jarosz said of her time in college, citing also that her studies prompted her to experiment with the texture of string arrangements. Of her lyrics, she says she tried to simplify them on this album in a way that people can relate to them.
“To write a song that moves people in a certain way or makes people want to sing along in some way—that’s the goal [of songwriting].”
All this is what she says sets Bones apart from the other albums.
That, and the chance to include her trio—Nathaniel Smith (cello) and Alex Hargreaves (fiddle)—in a bigger way. Their inclusion is what helped make a cover of Joanna Newsom’s song “The Book of Right-On” Jarosz’s own by having to pick apart what Newsom did with one person and spreading it between three musicians. Her other cover, Bob Dylan’s “A Simple Twist of Fate”, was born out of a jam session with Smith.
These covers represent as well, perhaps, how she is inspired by the music and artists she listens to. Jarosz says she’s always trying to discover new music and gets excited by what she finds. Artists that inspire her are Tim O’Brien, Chris Thile, Gillian Welch, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon, to name a few. She says O’Brien and Thile have even been mentors to her since she was a young girl.
As a whole, Bones is a product of Jarosz’s ability to make meaning out of increasing life experiences, musical trainings, and the inspiration gathered from the artists and people she admires—all tied in with the desire to create “something different, something fresh.”
“I think it’s a balance of being a good listener and collecting ideas along the way,” Jarosz said. “Time opens itself up to sit down with those ideas and sort of sift through them and see what works.”
Take advantage of the chance to see Jarosz and her trio perform on Sunday, April 27, 7:30pm, at The Center for the Arts (314 W Main St.) in Grass Valley—the closest of 5 cities Jarosz is visiting in a Northern California tour and guaranteed to be worth the small trek. To purchase tickets ($22/$20 members) and listen to songs, visit www.sarahjarosz.com.