Sarah Jarosz began her musical career as a child and has been celebrated ever since for her precociousness, talent as a singer, and skill as a mandolin and banjo player. On her first three albums, she did killer versions of songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Thom Yorke, and even Edgar Allan Poe. She also composed some musically complex and emotionally wrought tracks.
Being a prodigy means growing up in public, and over three previous albums this young Texan’s songs have sometimes been outshone by her multi-instrumental skills. Graduated from the New England Conservatory and relocated to New York, the 25-year-old brings a touch of maturity to Undercurrent, helped by an impeccable backing crew and co-writes with the likes of Aoife O’Donovan and the Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan. The opener, Early Morning Light, is all her own, however; solo and bereft.
On her first studio recording in three years, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz completes the musical shift that began on 2013's Build Me Up from Bones. The earlier album, recorded while finishing her studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, explored songwriting outside the norms of contemporary folk, bluegrass, and country. Undercurrent finds her defining a music built out from American roots traditions, not bound by them.
Imagine a young Shawn Colvin with her shimmering voice and slight country twang, and you’ll come close to appreciating Sarah Jarosz. This fourth release from the Texas native — who attended the New England Conservatory and has studied everything from bluegrass to klezmer — is in a singer-songwriter mode; four songs feature just Jarosz and acoustic guitar, while others are tautly arranged progressive-folk gems with backup from guitarists Luke Reynolds (Guster) and Jedd Hughes (Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell). All are Jarosz originals, comprising a cycle about love relationships, from losing hope in “Early Morning Light” to reflection in the mystical “Green Lights” (which sounds like early Beth Orton), anger in the ironically titled “House of Mercy,” and renewed hope in “Take Me Back,’’ with an elegant Simon & Garfunkel feel.
For Austinites who've followed her since her early teens, the fact that Wimberley native Sarah Jarosz blossomed into one of the most stirring musicians of her generation comes as absolutely no surprise. Undercurrent, her fourth studio full-length, arrives far more quietly in terms of production tricks than her previous work, with a smidge less risk-taking. Nevertheless, the album plays out as engrossing as anything she's ever recorded, a mix of old-time folk and contemporary bluegrass that digs deep into the soul and sends hearts soaring.