Sunday, October 31, 2010

Live: Sarah Jarosz 10/29/2010 at Mercury Lounge, NYC

Sarah Jarosz casually strolled up upon the low-lit stage at NYC's Mecury Lounge last Friday night, among a collection of stringed instruments and amplifiers. She slung her banjo over her shoulder to the welcoming applause of fans, admirers, and as she later gratefully acknowledged, her dear friends in attendance. In that instant, the room proved the perfect setting to allow Ms. Jarosz to take the sole spotlight, and without any accompaniment, offer up an evening of her unique songwriting and impressive musicianship.

The set opened with Ms. Jarosz's aching vocal and steadily banjo-backed "Tell Me True", a standout track from her debut album, Song Up In Her Head. Next, she launched into her first of two Tim O'Brien covers, "Red Dog In The Morning" followed by a new song that she wrote on the subway, that wove a somber tale of a solitary woman shuffling through her days.

One of the true highlights of the evening came when Ms. Jarosz took hold of her guitar, and launched into the galloping command of "Broussard's Lament". The song, written in tribute to a New Orleans man, following his experiences of Hurricane Katrina, propelled on such a passionate wave of urgency it was breathtaking. Ms. Jarosz's vocal conjured up swells and crashes, while attacking her guitar with dashing melodies and riveting breaks. It was an awesome display of raw talent and emotion. Definitely the stand out tune for me of the night.

Following such a display of power, the second Tim O'Brien cover of the night, "Brother Wind" calmed the storm just long enough for the attendees to take a quick breath. Any expectations that things were going to slow down from there were certainly mistaken. Ms. Jarosz then picked up her mandolin, and away we all went again!

Swaying in place with her eyes closed, Ms. Jarosz steadily and confidently ran right through her Grammy-nominated instrumental "Mansinneedof". The pulsating rhythms garnered nodding heads and wide grins amongst the crowd, as the flying leads off of her mandolin were met with shouts and howls, as if we were all riding a well-oiled rollercoaster led by this prodigious, and equally virtuosic guide.

The evening concluded with a string of crowd-pleasing, but by no means any less impressive tunes, showcasing Ms. Jarosz's range and abilities as performer. Appeasing requests from the darkness, she granted them gently by playing "My Muse", followed by a hauntingly rendered version of Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells", and closing the set with her own "Song Up In Her Head".

Throughout the evening, Ms. Jarosz displayed not just her virtuosity and proficiency among the banjo, guitar, and mandolin, but also an admirable bravery and range as a vocalist. Watching her perform alone on stage, and witnessing her willingness to deliver such a diverse selection of tunes ranging from the achingly beautiful, to the quietly sincere, to the energetic and loud, was certainly impressive. As much as I really enjoyed her performance Friday night, I am even more excited to see, and hear, where Ms. Jarosz takes us next. Clearly someone to watch.

Sugar Hill Records will be digitally releasing The New 45 EP, by Sarah Jarosz, on November 2nd. A limited vinyl pressing will be available later this month through her website. Check your local listings to watch her performance on Austin City Limits, airing November 6th.

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