Sarah Jarosz turns 21 in late May, but that’s not obvious from her voice. This is not so hard to understand, as she has been singing since she was two. In a phone interview from Boston, where she is studying at the New England Conservatory, she explained, “My dad is a music lover and my mom is a songwriter as a hobby. I really started getting passionate about it when I was 10 and got a mandolin for Christmas. I started going to a bluegrass jam session in my hometown of Wimberly, Texas.”
Jarosz followed those jam sessions up with festivals and music camp. “That took it to another level, and there were other people my age doing it.”
Although her music would come under the bluegrass umbrella, it has elements of pop and folk in it, including drums and, on record, an atmospheric production akin to those of Daniel Lanois from the 1980s and 1990s. The twang is mixed with beautiful vocals, ethereal guitar and violin on last year’s Follow Me Down. Among its selections are two covers that people would not associate with bluegrass: Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” and Radiohead’s “The Tourist.”
“I remember my dad playing me [‘Ring Them Bells’ and saying, ‘You should pay attention to this song,’” Jarosz says. “I started covering it at shows, then I forgot about it. Something about the way the songs were coming together on the record, it seemed like that song was what was needed. As for Radiohead, I’ve been a fan for a while. I was backstage with Chris Thile [Nickel Creek/Punch Brothers] and he played it. I always thought it would be great on a record.”
Jarosz wrote the other nine songs on the album, focusing on lyrical depth and melodies—hardly new, but she’s comfortable with that. “Music is so easy to get a hold of these days, but I think there is an honesty in the older music that I’ve always really connected to, and that people really long for these days. A rawness. I’ve been drawn to that, and I certainly am influenced by it in some of my songs.”
Sarah Jarosz plays Jazz Fest on Friday, May 4 at 4:20 p.m. on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage.