UNDERCURRENT - SARAH JAROSZ
LCM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Release Date: 17th June, 2016
Genre: Americana, Folk, Singer-Songwriter
Location: New York, New York, USA
Record Label: Sugar Hill Records
Recently receiving multiple Grammy nominations 'Undercurrent', the new highly anticipated album from Texan Sarah Jarosz, is already something very special. The album title carries the idea of 'an underlying feeling or influence' or 'a flow of water moving below the surface.' That evocative imagery is appropriate for 'Undercurrent', whose 11 original songs seem to reveal new lyrical depth and sonic nuance with every listen. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, a singularly expressive vocalist and a songwriter of rare insight, Sarah Jarosz has been described by The New York Times as "one of acoustic music's most promising young talents: a singer-songwriter and mandolin and banjo prodigy with the taste and poise to strike that rare balance of commercial and critical success."
Although it's her fourth album, 'Undercurrent' is a milestone for Sarah in more ways than one. It's her first release since graduating with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music and her first since relocating to New York City.
"This is the first record I've made since being out on my own and experiencing a lot of changes, and I think that that's reflected in the songs," Sarah explains. "It's also the first record I've ever made that feels to me like a complete thought, with a beginning, a middle and an ending. It's also the first time I've made an album that doesn't have any covers on it. I wanted it to feel like the rollercoaster ride that is life, so I put a lot of thought into sequencing the songs. It was important for me to start with light, and then go through darker times, and stubbornness and strength and weakness, and then end up on a hopeful note."
Undercurrent is a sublimely resonant song cycle anchored around a haunting quartet of songs written and performed solo by the artist: "Early Morning Light," "Everything To Hide," "Take Another Turn" and "Jacqueline." The album features several numbers co-written by Sarah with a variety of collaborators who also contributed to the recordings, including Luke Reynolds ("Green Lights"), Jedd Hughes ("House Of Mercy"), Parker Millsap ("Comin' Undone") and Aoife O'Donovan ("Still Life"). The latter track features Aoife O'Donovan, of Crooked Still fame, as well as Nickel Creek co-founder Sara Watkins, Sarah's bandmates in their extracurricular trio 'I'm with Her'. Undercurrent also includes two songs co-written with the Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan, including the nostalgic “Back Of My Mind”.
The album begins with the beautiful and reflective self penned track 'Early Morning Light'. It really sets the tone, a wistful and regretful reflection on lost love with gentle plucked acoustic guitar and Sarah pure vocals soaring above the melody. A co-writewith Luke Reynolds who plays acoustic & electric guitar and provide backing vocals 'Green Lights' is a sweeping love song. Sarah plays mandolin and she is also joined by Mark Schatz on Bass. It's a lovely ethereal track with an almost retro 60's and 70's feel. "Up overhead the stars are burning. Gravity is bending time and space. The galaxies are slowly turning and we're both standing face to face. Green lights and open road and skies of endless blue. That's the feeling I get when I'm with you"
My favourite on the album and one of the standout tracks is the bluesy hard edged break-up song 'House Of Mercy' written with long time collaborator Jedd Hughes. Some lovely hooks in the chorus and I love the interplay between Sarah and Jedd on harmony vocals. "In the middle of the night again, still water and the birds don't sing. Cold gin, in the back room hummin'.....medicating for the trouble that's coming......Don't try and change my mind, that knock gets louder all the time. Don't try and wear me down. You'll never get inside this house............Strained muscles and a heart of stone. Double crossing like a wild chameleon.....you make me want to be alone."
The reflective 'Everything To Hide' is where the album title 'Undercurrent' is taken. It's stripped back and it really draws you in as Sarah and her acoustic guitar takes you on a journey. "When I'm with you baby we got everything to hide....well I never thought that I could be a child of sin. Now I here confessing of these childish hopes within. But you said hope is always there so what's a girl to do? I should quit while I'm ahead but I ain't through with you". With it's gentle pedal steel backing from Luke Reynolds and crisp electric guitar solo from Jedd, the nostalgic 'Back Of My Mind' explores the subject of love, leaving and remembering the good times. The song was co-written with the Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan,"I went away I was on my own. taking you with me was all I'd known. But I think I like it, this freedom I find.....and our love will live in the back of my mind". Another co-write with a rising star of Americana this time Parker Millsap, 'Comin' Undone' is a quality funky blues and folk fusion song. Featuring Parker's trademark choppy acoustic style and wonderfully complementary backing vocals. The song also features Tim Lauer on B3 Organ.
The reflective and personal 'Take Another Turn' returns to the almost pure essence of Sarah's music, just vocals and acoustic guitar. "What does it mean to be lost? You can't find your way on a map. You took the wrong turn, forgot where you came from and now there ain't going back". Sarah has the great ability to draw you into her rich, deep and layered world and the melancholic 'Lost Dog' is a wonderful example. It's also the only appearance on the album of Sarah's clawhammer banjo playing. 'Take Me Back' is the second co-write on the album with Joey Ryan. It has the feel of a great intimate Paul Simon song.
For 'Still Life' Sarah turns to her 'I'm With Her' touring partners Aoife O'Donovan (Crooked Still, Sometymes Why, The Goat Rodeo Sessions) and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) who both play on the track. Highly quality harmonies and arrangements abound, weaving around Sara's fiddle playing. "What I need from you my friend is a kiss and then a walk home to where the sidewalk ends at the reservoir at noon. Underneath the city sky we're all still life. All the people pass us by and they don't know what to do"
The album closes in style with the lovely 'Jacqueline' another great showcase of Sarah's solo prowess, as she accompanies herself on delicate electric guitar. The song was written about Jackie Kennedy Onassis famed for her bright pink dresses, Chanel suits and pillbox hats.