Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Tim Mack
Sarah Jarosz recently graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music. Those Beantown digs are close enough to lump her in with the Berklee bluegrass gang, and she certainly shares the politesse of that crowd. Even when they play outside, they sound dainty.
But Jarosz grew up in Wimberley, Texas, and she brings a bit of that Lone Star finesse to the table, at least when it comes to songwriting. And that is her true trump card.
Jaorsz first came to notice as a phenom, yet another festival kid who dazzled enough to grab a record deal. But she’s largely left that jazz behind. At The Egg last Friday, she picked a little for sure (including a delightful mandolin instrumental), but for most of the night she strummed her custom octave mando or plonked a wicked clawhammer on the five-wire.
Her voice is by turns winsome and haunting, but again there’s that Boston reserve; a parsimonious Calvinism of tone, hinting that these songs are fragile, precious objects.
Some, like “Mile On The Moon” and the solo “Gone Too Soon” are; others — “Fuel the Fire” and “1,000 Things” (co-written with Darrell Scott) — are sturdier stuff.
Mississippi-bred cellist Nathaniel Smith, on the other hand, attacked the songs. He also suffered from the most fatal dose of Ray Cooper Disease I’ve seen in years. Cooper is the brilliant percussionist for big stars like Elton John and Eric Clapton. And he’s the man who moves so floridly while performing that he constantly pulls focus from the star. At The Egg you would have sworn that Smith’s name was on the ticket and not Jarosz’s. Grrr… After a certain point I couldn’t even appreciate his talents (although all was forgiven, at least temporarily, for a spare cello-and-voice reading of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate”).
No such showboating for master fiddler Alex Hargreaves, likely the best musician of the impressive bunch. He has a long, solid career in front of him, he does.
Jarosz does, too. It doesn’t feel like she’ll become the heir apparent to Gillian Welch even if she wears the elder’s influence on her sleeve. Where Welch’s songs are cut from granite, Jarosz’s are cut from chalk. They leave a mark, not a wound.
Pennsylvania-bred opener Dietrich Strause is a hot Boston property, too. He pleased the crowd, but his literate, wordy songs feel culled from books about hardscrabble days rather than like life from such.
Tim Mack’s review and photographs at Nippertown