Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sarah Jarosz’s Undercurrent—solid effort with bright spots

[Guitar, banjo, mandolin, or octave mandolin not pictured]
[Guitar, banjo, mandolin, and octave mandolin not pictured]
One of my recent regrets is that I only discovered Sarah Jarosz last year, from an album that came out in 2013.* Because of this regret, I made sure to purchase her new album, Undercurrent, right when it came out in late June.

Jarosz is not only a great mandolin, guitar, and banjo player, but she has a very emotive voice and writes most of her material. She actually doesn’t even play the normal mandolin on this album, splitting most tracks between octave mandolin and guitar. 4 of the tracks are just her and a guitar. Most of the time, Jarosz is equally captivating with just a guitar or mandolin as with a band, delivering captivating intimate performances; although I think more songs with more instruments would have made this a better album.

The hands-down standout track of Undercurrent is “Green Lights”; from beginning to end, the songwriting and production transports to an optimistic place. The lyrics effectively mix the mundane and the cosmic, with long notes and phrases underpinned with driving rhythm. Jarosz makes the genius decision of making the first chorus wordless. “House of Mercy,” another standout, has the opposite feeling of “Green Lights”—instead of opening up because of relationship, the character is closing up, with short phrases, rhythms that start and stop, and a controlled-yet-angry vocal delivery. “Everything to Hide” (the track from which the album gets its title) also is notable for its unconventional structure and confessional, candid lyrics.

Some of the songs are more forgettable than others, short on nuance or number of ideas necessary to sustain interest. Then again, there is only so much you can fit in 2 minutes and 30 seconds. While I don’t think Undercurrent is quite up to the level of Build Me Up From Bones, it is a solid album and recommended.

*I mentioned in a previous post that it was a rare case in which Amazon’s suggestions worked, though the album was suggested over and over again before I actually tried it out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your review, Peter! I heard her on NPR, on a segment curated by Chris Thile. It might have been on A Prairie Home Companion but I can't remember. I liked her but had since forgotten about her. Thanks for reminding me!