Seventeen years old and already turning the heads of critics, producers, and session musicians alike, Sarah Jarosz is not only a jaw-dropping talent but a multidimensional one, as well. Her voice is clear and sweet, her mandolin playing has been good enough for long enough that she has memories of jamming on-stage with David Grisman and Ricky Skaggs at age twelve, and she plays guitar and clawhammer banjo as well. Oh, and she also writes songs -- really, really good ones. Her debut is not a bluegrass album, though it seems likely that it will end up in that section of the CD store. The songs are all originals, except for covers of the Decemberists' "Shankill Butchers" and Tom Waits' "Come on Up to the House." Some of her original compositions sound remarkably ancient, such as the vinegary and modal "Tell Me True"; others are bitingly topical, such as "Broussard's Lament" -- a song that, for all its indirectness, can only be intended as a sharp commentary on the government's bungling of the rescue and recovery effort following Hurricane Katrina. Her instrumental compositions are complex but sweetly lovely, and her twin-mandolin interplay with Mike Marshall on "Mansinneedof" is especially impressive in both its pleasant accessibility and its mature sophistication. Her acoustic arrangement of "Come on Up to the House" expresses all of the original's bluesy swagger but tempers it with a more refined sense of Southern hospitality. Truth be told, she comes close to jumping the shark on "Broussard's Lament." But if that's as close as she comes to a misstep on her debut album, then Sarah Jarosz has a long and exceptionally promising career ahead of her.
Song Up in Her Head Review
by Rick Anderson