Sarah Jarosz – The Bowery Ballroom – June 27, 2016
Sarah Jarosz’s superb new album is called Undercurrent, which, perhaps, you already knew because of all the critical praise it’s received. The LP is a gorgeous document—something you yield to, swooning over her deeply affecting soprano—and simply great in how its songs come across complete, but not overadorned. More pronounced, less intimate arrangements would be needed if the songs couldn’t stand on their own, but whoa, can they: Jarosz, at 25, sounds more knowing, worldly and pragmatic than many accomplished folk singers twice her age. Brilliantly, she can also transfer this honest, lived-in vibe to the stage, and did during a nourishing show at The Bowery Ballroom last night.
Undercurrent material figured heavily in a set that unspooled, song by song—visits with an excited but weary mind, narrating stories like “Lost Dog,” “Take Another Turn” (with the line “What does it mean to be lonely?”), “Everything to Hide” and the gently swampy “Back of My Mind.” It’s accurate to call these songs and older Jarosz gems, like “Build Me Up from Bones,” country-rubbed folk, with just enough blues and New York City noir in there to keep them from sounding old-timey. Here, too, were they unadorned—guitars and bass, mostly, in a trio format, and dressed up only by Jarosz’s own voice. As a performer, she seems self-aware, sure of her talents and sure of not wanting to gild the lily.
Well, OK, even Jarosz can’t argue with a bit of lily-gilding: Late in the show, she summoned her I’m with Her bandmates, Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan, and for a few minutes, we were transported back to an equally magical show from December 2015, at this same venue, with that same trio of dazzlingly talented female folkies, each wanting to share the stage, each performer’s individual charisma making that seem impossible to do, until they expertly balanced one another. Their delivery of Tom Waits’ “Come On Up to the House”—one of Jarosz’s best covers—at first felt like a visit from an entirely different concert, and then felt of a piece with the rest of the set, another visit that you come away from learning more than what you’ve brought to it. We’ll be hearing more from Jarosz, from I’m with Her, from every interesting possibility these combinations of musicians seem to yield. And possibly soon: Sara Watkins is at Rough Trade NYC tonight. Just saying. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson