In any classroom of Bostonâ€™s prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, youâ€™ll likely find plenty of 20-year-old music students daydreaming about nationwide tours, major festival sets and critically acclaimed records. For many, thatâ€™s a dream that may never come to fruition. But for Sarah Jarosz, the rising Boston-by-way-of-Dallas folk/newgrass phenomenon, itâ€™s a dream that sheâ€™s already living just seven months after the release of her sophomore effort, Follow Me Down.
Not unlike a highly touted athlete, Jarosz faced a tough decision out of high school. Already signed to Sugar Hill Records by the time she got her diploma (the label would release her debut, Song Up in Her Head, in June 2009), Jarosz could have easily forgone her music education and hit the touring circuit full-time.
â€œI went back and forth for a while [on going to school], but Iâ€™m really glad I chose the school route. I wanted to savor these great years of my life and let myself be a 20-year-old,â€ she says. â€œIâ€™m definitely glad that I had more of a festival and music camp learning experience before I went to school. I feel fortunate to have grown up in that festival scene where music was such a fun thing I was able to fall in love with, and now because I grew up with that feeling, Iâ€™m able to think of it in more of a somewhat serious way and get deeper into it.â€
Itâ€™s from that deeper study, and undoubtedly from the effects of a cross-country college move, that Follow Me Down has a decidedly darker and more mature sound compared to Jaroszâ€™s debut.
â€œMusically and personally, Iâ€™ve been placed out of my comfort zone, and all the influences Iâ€™ve gained have really affected my music and my songwriting,â€ she says. â€œ[Follow Me Down] definitely has a little bit of a darker feel to it than the first one did. Itâ€™s sort of an invitation for people to see what Iâ€™m doing musically.â€
Despite these darker undertones, the record remains a respectful homage to Jaroszâ€™s folk/bluegrass heroes. The â€œold schoolâ€ vibes of Tim Oâ€™Brien and Darrell Scottâ€™s songwriting and instrumental prowess mix well with the more contemporary feel of influences like Gillian Welch and Chris Thile/ The Punch Brothers.
â€œI am really lucky to have really supportive parents who love music; so growing up I was always surrounded by lots of styles,â€ says Jarosz, before naming some of those artists who have served as lifelong influences. â€œIâ€™ve always had a lot of respect for people who are amazing singers, great musicians and composers, as well.â€
Following in the footsteps of these idols, Jarosz has molded her own songwriting style into one thatâ€™s seemingly well beyond her years.
â€œThe thing that keeps drawing me back to [songwriting] is that there isnâ€™t a formula,â€ she says. â€œI get inspired when Iâ€™m being the best listener. Sometimes we can all be closed off to things, and when Iâ€™m able to allow myself to open up a bit more is when Iâ€™m able to be inspired by a lot of thingsâ€”whether thatâ€™s by other musicians or if Iâ€™m reading a great book or something like that. It all makes its way into the songs.â€
Follow Me Down also includes two covers that have helped Jarosz catch even more attention: a minimalist take on Radioheadâ€™s â€œThe Touristâ€ and an achingly gorgeous spin through Bob Dylanâ€™s â€œRing Them Bells.â€
â€œIâ€™m a huge Radiohead fan, and I love [â€œRing Them Bellsâ€], and never get tired of singing that song. It was through learning other peopleâ€™s songs that I was able to really start working on my own and forming my own stuff,â€ she says. â€œAnd when it comes to choosing them for a record, I have to see what the bulk of my original material is like before I can really see what mood is lacking and might need to be created by another song that I love.â€
In the classroom or on the road, the setting for Jaroszâ€™s education seems inconsequential. Her eyes and ears are wide open, and everywhere she goes, it seems fans are left feeling much the same.
WHO: Sarah Jarosz, Homesick Elephant
WHERE: The Melting Point
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 11, 8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $10 (adv.), $12 (door)
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