Sarah Jarosz is enjoying a moment of rare respite in the midst of an extensive summer tour. “It’s been pretty rigorous, but it’s been good,” says the Texas native with a sigh. The fresh-faced 20-year-old is clearly more than up to the demands of the road—but as evidenced on Follow Me Down, her new sophomore album, Jarosz’s abilities on guitar, banjo, piano, mandolin and vocals belie her years. Touted as a child prodigy since her early teens, Jarosz shrugs off the label. “I don’t know if I am or not,” she says. “I think it had more to do with being surrounded by so many of my heroes and being able to learn from them at an early age.”
Indeed, Jarosz’s Grammy-nominated 2009 debut Song Up in Her Head featured a veritable who’s who of the bluegrass world. Though she is quick to note, “I don’t consider the songs I write bluegrass, necessarily. I started in that world and love it, but I’ve always looked up to those who pay tribute to their roots while still pushing the boundaries.” Follow Me Down expands her musical world further with guest appearances by Punch Brothers, Shawn Colvin, Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, among others.
With her time divided between touring and studies at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, Jarosz concedes that finding opportunities to write new material has been a challenge—and has accordingly seen fit to express herself through an eclectic choice of covers. Follow Me Down finds her tackling Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” and Radiohead’s “The Tourist,” the latter of which evolved out of an impromptu jam with Punch Brothers mandolinist Chris Thile. “I feel lucky to have grown up listening to different styles and not being closed off to any particular genre,” she says.
Jarosz has come a long way since her breakthrough performance at the 2007 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. It was there she met Sugar Hill Records A&R man Gary Paczosa, who signed her to the label and has co-produced both her albums. “We had a good dynamic in the studio, and I was given the freedom to bring my ideas to the table,” she recalls. “I had such a sense that he was open to anything.” Since then her musical palette has expanded right along with her career. “It all evolved very naturally,” she says. “It makes me think I’m where I should be.”
“I don’t consider the songs I write bluegrass, necessarily. I started in that world and love it, but I’ve always looked up to those who pay tribute to their roots while still pushing the boundaries.”