My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Daily Archives: July 10, 2009

Classic Rewind: Patty Loveless with Ricky Skaggs – ‘Daniel Prayed’

Album Review: Sarah Jarosz – ‘Song Up In Her Head’

song up in her headI have a few things in common with Sarah Jarosz, a new addition to label Sugar Hill’s roster. We both:

– love to listen to music in the car
– are 18
– are National Honor Society members
– just graduated from high school
– are going to college in the fall (Me in Utah, her in Massachusetts)
– love bluegrass music (especially if it includes Chris Thile or Nickel Creek)

However, there’s one major difference: I am not a talented singer and multi-instrumentalist nor have I recorded a stunning bluegrass album. It’s mind-blowing that she’s my age and has made an album as good or as mature as Song Up In Her Head. If I didn’t know better, this album was made by a pro who’s been making music for decades, but it’s not. She plays piano, banjo, mandolin, guitar and clawhammer banjo, not to mention the amazing instrument that is her voice.

This isn’t one of those albums where Sarah’s “good for her age,” she’s just flat-out good. It’s interesting to see how she’s younger than Taylor Swift (By one year) and already she’s on a higher plane of maturity. Taylor is 2-note most of the time, either singing about a good boy or a bad boy. Sarah’s “just trying to figure this life out” and she does that by playing and singing. Scattered through her original songs are 2 covers, including one especially haunting rendition of “Shankill Butchers” by The Decemberists. This beautifully creepy song describes the infamous Shankill Butchers, a group that terrorized Irish Catholics in Ireland during the 1970’s. It’s heavy subject matter, but Sarah takes it in stride with confidence and talent.

sarah-jaroszIn “Edge Of A Dream”, a gently swaying number, Sarah sings about life as a dance. We all dance to the same beat, why don’t we “learn a new dance”? Throughout the album, she makes small references to her age, but in a way that’s relatable and meaningful to older listeners, making good music that anyone can find meaning in instead of a select few.

This batch of songs is not only mature and deep, but they all sound really cool, with lots of picking and guests such as Jerry Douglas. A toy piano is used to great effect, not to mention Sarah’s excellence on the banjo- the textures are varied and interesting to listen to.

This album is really something special- Sarah Jarosz is here to stay. She’s confident and knows exactly the kind of music that she wants to make, and she makes it! I wish I was going to her college, I would ask her out for sure! Is that weird? Anyway, check out this album, it’s worth your time.

Grade: A

My top 3 tracks:
1. “Shankill Butchers”
2. “Song Up In Her Head”
3. “Edge Of A Dream”

Listen to Song Up In Her Head on Last.fm

Buy Song Up In Her Head on iTunes or Amazon.

Singers & songwriters

KrisKristofferson (Small)Country music has a long, rich heritage of artists who were both accomplished singers and songwriters — Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton are just a few examples of those who excelled not only as vocalists, but at writing their own material. Others, like George Strait and Reba McEntire, have occasionally dabbled into songwriting, but their true strength lies in interpreting the words of others.

In recent years, it’s become more expected for artists to write their own songs. Press releases for new artists boast about how many songs they co-wrote for their albums — emphasis on co-wrote; rarely do they seem to write songs without outside help. This has given rise to the oft-repeated “songwriting by committee” complaint. In addition, fans often argue that an artist who writes his or own material is superior to one who relies on outside writers.

Then there are those singer/songwriters whose true talent is with the pen and not the microphone. Kris Kristofferson, Bill Anderson, Nanci Griffith, and Matraca Berg have all been recording artists, but they are primarily thought of as songwriters.

While I appreciate the talent of those who can both sing and write, I’ve never considered it a prerequisite for someone to be able to do both in order to be considered a “true artist.” If someone is a great vocalist and knows how to pick good material and interpret the lyrics, I don’t care who wrote them. My enjoyment of a performance is not diminished by the knowledge that someone else wrote the song. I’d rather listen to a great vocalist who doesn’t write, than a mediocre singer who is an excellent composer. Still, there are those who insist that performers be able to do both, and do both well.

What are your thoughts? Is it important to you that your favorite performers write their own material? Can someone be considered a true artist if they are reliant on others to supply them with lyrics and melodies?