Folkin’ Around

It’s May Term at Simpson College and things are generally a little more laid back. So, I’m taking this post in a new direction to reflect a little of the relaxation that all students have been experiencing now that finals are over and summer is drawing near.

While browsing Twitter streams yesterday, I came across a bluegrass/roots/folk musician I wasn’t familiar with, Sarah Jarosz, a budding singer/songwriter out of Texas. Apparently, despite thinking of myself as a connoisseur of the genre, I’m a little behind the times when it comes to Jarosz’s music. However, I dug into NPR’s live stream of her new album, “Follow Me Down,” and came out on the other side with some fresh perspective on acoustic music.

One aspect of Jarosz’s music that struck me from the outset of “Follow Me Down” was the dark undertones explored in her music. The opening track, “Run Away,” tells the story of a seemingly forbidden romance, with the narrator urging her partner that now is the time to run away together. For me, with it’s fingerpicked melody and haunting guitar phrases, the song conjures images of the deep south.

Follow me down through the cotton fields, moon shadows shine bright the way you will. Lead us down a road, where no one goes, we can run away… 

Overall, it’s a beautifully crafted song that opens the album well. The next standout came with track three, another haunting piece, “Annabelle Lee,” an Edgar Allen Poe poem adapted and set to music. Here, Jarosz demonstrates her superb clawhammer banjo skills.

Jarosz chose a few interesting covers for “Follow Me Down,” including Radiohead’s, “The Tourist,” and Bob Dylan’s, “Ring Them Bells.” The latter, I’ve heard multiple covers of, however, I’m highly impressed by Jarosz’s. Featuring a chiming dobro solo that I assume is played by dobro master Jerry Douglas, the song has a bright and uplifting feel, relatively absent even in Dylan’s version.

After a full listen of Jarosz’s album, which also includes some killer instrumentals, it’s easy to see where she’s coming from. Her music carries a tradition and sounds forged by bands like Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers (she’s actually jammed with the Punch Brothers, producing this video). It’s rooted in traditional bluegrass and folk, but also carries a sound of its own. All I can say is I hope she travels to Iowa soon!

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