Album Review – Sarah Jarosz’s ‘Undercurrent’

It’s amazing how much we grow as human beings each and every day. Speaking as someone who isn’t even in his twenties yet, I can safely (and proudly) say that my perspective of the world and the things that encompass it have changed drastically since I was a young boy and will definitely continue to change as I grow older. We hope to not only grow older during our time but also wiser as well.

Singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz is someone who has captured her life experiences all throughout and transposed them to music. Since performing as a young child, Sarah has gone on to record albums during her time in high school as well as in 2013 when she recorded her album Build Me Up From Bones while attending the New England Conservatory Of Music.

Moving on to 2016, Sarah has now graduated and gained a newfound perspective on life, something that has translated onto her new album, Undercurrent.

While 2013’s Build Me Up From Bones found the singer-songwriter experimenting outside traditional realms of country and bluegrass, Undercurrent find Sarah Jarosz stripping her sound back quite a bit, almost reminiscent of the latest albums from artists such as James McMurtry or Hayes Carll. Indeed, “Early Morning Light” is the first example of this stripped back sound, leaving us to hear almost nothing except Sarah and an acoustic guitar. Tracks such as “Everything To Hide”, “Take Another Turn”, and “Take Me Back” follow suit.

Of course, there are also moments on this album where the production is spiced up a tad bit, admittedly a welcome change when it comes on this particular album. “Green Lights” is backed with a more vibrant, spacious atmosphere and features a fantastic vocal melody from Sarah. By placing the track “House Of Mercy” in minor key, it lends itself to a sinister, darker tone that I really enjoyed. “Back Of My Mind” features a great use of steel guitar in the background to support this waltz like tune while a track like “Lost Dog” features an excellent use of the banjo and violin. While this isn’t necessarily a “fun” album, the track “Comin’ Undone” featuring Parker Millsap really has a great jazzy, almost gospel like quality to it that really works well.

Moving on to the thematical content, a lot of tracks on this album seem to deal with the concept of love, either holding onto it or letting go of it. “Early Morning Light” and “Still Life” are both tracks that highlight dying relationships and wondering where to go next. Wondering what to do next in life and having the freedom to make choices is probably the bigger underlying theme throughout Undercurrent, which makes sense given Sarah’s recent graduation. “Green Lights” captures this newfound freedom by comparing love to things such as green lights and open roads, things that don’t bound us or shackle us as human beings. “Comin’ Undone” and “Still Life” also capture this theme of looking ahead to the future.

There are two tracks here that don’t really seem to have any direct tie to the theme of this album, but rather, implied ties. Even with that being said, they’re extremely strong songs, arguably the two best as a matter of fact. “Lost Dog” seems to be a straightforward song about a female protagonist who finds a lost dog in her yard, all the while wondering why it came to her. She ponders it living a recently bad life of nothing but pain, and almost contemplates keeping it. It’s the kind of track that almost makes you want to search for some deeper hidden meaning, such as trying to wonder if we shouldn’t look at the dog the same way we look at the female narrator in many of these tracks. Someone who is moving on from a past event and trying to start anew. “Jacqueline” is an extremely personal song for Sarah as she ponders her thoughts at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a place that Sarah describes herself as healing. Being the last song on this album fits. It’s a healing song that cleanses the soul after hearing many other heavy tracks here.

With Undercurrent, I’m not quite sure that the production will necessarily be something for everyone, and it might cause some listeners to lose attention at times. Also, some tracks such as “Take Another Turn” and “Take Me Back” just feel like weaker versions of other songs on this album.

But this is definitely a good album, even if emotionally exhausting at times. Undercurrent definitely feels like a personal album for Sarah, and as she continues to walk through her life there’s no telling what experiences will shape her next project, but I’ll surely be listening.

(7/10)

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