Three-time Grammy nominee and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz has a fine new album, “Undercurrents,” her first featuring all-original material. Jarosz performs Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Neptune Theatre.
When 25-year-old singer-songwriter and mandolinist extraordinaire Sarah Jarosz was growing up in Wimberley, Texas, she was a regular at her hometown’s Friday-night bluegrass jam.
“For me, it was more about the community, the camaraderie and the hang,” said Jarosz by telephone a couple of weeks ago. “Every week, to get to share songs with people who cared about the music.”
The importance of community shines through on “Undercurrent,” Jarosz’s fine new album, her fourth, from which she will no doubt pluck a few tunes when she plays Saturday (Aug. 13) at the Neptune Theatre.
8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $21-$23.50 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
The University District venue is a natural step up (she played the Tractor in 2014) for this three-time Grammy nominee. Jarosz is part of a young generation of master bluegrass multi-instrumentalists who also write contemporary songs unbound by tradition. Nickel Creek co-founder Sara Watkins and the lead singer for Crooked Still, Aoife O’Donovan, are two others, and Jarosz has collaborated with them both.
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The new album is anchored by four, starkly simple acoustic tracks, with team efforts sprinkled in between. It’s Jarosz’s first album of original material and she not only sings but plays acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and the seductively twangy octave mandolin.
At the New England Conservatory of Music, Jarosz focused on mandolin but also studied everything from free jazz to klezmer music (her vocal teacher, Dominique Eade, also taught Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price at NEC). On this album, however, Jarosz consciously avoided showing off harmonic knowledge or dexterity, which made working on it something of a breakthrough.
“People know I can play all these instruments,” she said. “[This time] I wanted to focus on the songs, almost breaking it down to the most simple tools possible. I think that was a great exercise for me as a songwriter.”
It was, indeed.
“Early Morning Light,” the remorseful lead track, shimmers with bare, Appalachian stillness; the Bob Dylan-ish “Take Another Turn” is a spine-tingler; the nod to Jackie Kennedy, “Jacqueline,” floats haunting falsetto; and the crisply plucked “Everything to Hide,” makes surrendering to temptation sound sinful — yet delicious.
“That was the first song that I finished of the bunch,” said Jarosz of that cleverly named tune. “When that song happened, it showed me the vibe of the new record, that it was a lot more sparse and darker.”
“Comin’ Undone,” on the other hand, is a hopeful, soul-music-tinged collaboration with singer-songwriter Parker Millsap (another future Jarosz touring partner, who played the Tractor in July) featuring Hammond B-3 organ.
“I think it’s special when you can find your own voice through collaboration, when working with other people makes your voice more clear,” reflected Jarosz, who clearly hasn’t forgotten those Friday-night bluegrass jams.