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Sarah Jarosz

Songs Up in Her Head – 2009 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Dawn Pomento

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CDs by Sarah Jarosz

The buzz around Sarah Jarosz is bound to focus on a few noteworthy points, but those facts could unjustly overshadow her work. The CD deserves to sink or swim on it's own merit. Don't worry - it swims, all right. It does the butterfly, the backstroke, and might even invent a new stroke. The CD is a masterful collection of songs written by Jarosz with the exception of two tasteful covers thrown in, most notably an eery version of The Decemberists' Skankill Butchers. Jarosz's rendition seems destined to find a cult following or a home in an indie film soundtrack.

As much fun as that tune is, Jarosz's accomplished songwriting rightfully deserves the spotlight. The lyrics are deceptively lean and operate on at least two levels. "Step to the left, step to the right / The middle of the floor feels safe tonight," she sings in Edge of a Dream, which contains all the best examples of what works on the CD. Jarosz's gorgeous vocal control is accompanied by beautiful, simple instruments with banjo setting the tone.

Jarosz is a fine musician and plays banjo, guitar and mandolin on various songs, but much of the credit of the success must go to the fine producer Gary Paczosa, who has worked with John Prine and Alison Krauss. Still, Paczosa obviously found a wealth of opportunities in the songs of the 18-year-old from Wimberley, Texas. Her first album is as fine an album as a professional singer songwriter of any age could hope to make.