My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Sarah Jarosz

Jonathan Pappalardo’s Top 10 Singles of 2015

What does it say about me that the highest charting single on my list took eight months to peak at #9? I’ve continued to broaden my tastes as I’ve aged while continuing to closely follow the artists I’ve always admired. There was some stunning music this year and these ten selections are only the tip of the iceberg. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

cdca72c7ec5625f0f1f483fb_440x44010. I’m With Her – ‘Crossing Muddy Waters’

I’m With Her (Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan) is one of the more unique collaborations of the year and their cover of the fifteen year old John Hiatt song is the amuse-bouche to a main course full-length album that may come within the next few years. This track is too faithful to be a doozy but it more than proves they have the potential to be an artistic force should they go down that road. I really hope they do.

Trisha-Yearwood-I-remember-You9. Trisha Yearwood – ‘I Remember You’

Every Trisha Yearwood album has its own personality and PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit lies on the more Adult Contemporary side of the country spectrum. “I Remember You,” a tribute to her mom, is far from the most dynamic ballad she’s ever recorded. But it shows off a tender side of her voice we’ve never heard before. Yearwood is a vocal chameleon able to adapt to any style and work within any parameters. She’s still a master after twenty-five years. I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next.

Traveller8. Chris Stapleton – ‘Traveller’

“Tennessee Whiskey,” the early 1980s George Jones hit he sang on the CMA Awards, is the standout showcase for his gifts as a vocalist. “Traveller,” showcases his talents as a songwriter. This autobiographical mid-tempo ballad casts Stapleton as a vagabond who knows his path but cannot see his destination. Like any great artist he’s spent his time paying his dues and working the system until he could shine in his own light. He may always be a “Traveller,” but I bet he has a much clearer picture of where he’s headed now that the world finally knows his name.

Screen-Shot-2015-05-05-at-10.39.03-AM7. Jason Isbell – ’24 Frames’

“24 Frames” is a 1990s inspired gem that owes more to R.E.M. than Alan Jackson, bringing the same addictive quality (minus the mandolins) that made “Losing My Religion” so intoxicating. “24 Frames” is a fantastic meditation on relationships, cumulating with a chorus that compares God to an architect and declares, “he’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow.”

Thile & PB6. Punch Brothers – ‘I Blew It Off’

The coolest track from The Phosphorescent Blues is this plucky slice of bluegrass-pop, a style Chris Thile and the boys have perfected over the course of their four albums. They returned after a three-year hiatus to find Thile with a ‘bad case of twenty-first century stress,’ which is about the only thing he can’t shrug off. He’s furious yet knows he isn’t alone, declaring by the end that modern technology is having an effect on everyone, not just him. “I Blew It Off” is as simple as any song could be saying a lot in a very tiny space. That’s often where the most valuable riches can be found.

Fly5. Maddie & Tae – ‘Fly’

Not since “Cowboy Take Me Away” has a fiddle driven pop-country ballad reached these artistic heights. At a moment when Maddie & Tae had to show the world what else they could do, they blew away the competition with their exquisite harmonies and pitch perfect lyric. They aren’t the Dixie Chicks by any means, but they’re pretty darn close.


Dierks-Bentley-Riser-Album-Art-CountryMusicIsLove4. Dierks Bentley – ‘Riser’

Even in the face of commercial pressures, Dierks Bentley sticks to his convictions. “Riser” is a sweeping tale of overcoming odds and one of his finest singles. I have no clue why he hasn’t risen (no pun intended) to the upper echelon of country greats at a time when he’s bucking trends and releasing worthy songs to country radio. He’s one of the best we have and deserves to be compensated as such.

2647969113. Jana Kramer – ‘I Got The Boy’

Leave it to Jamie Lynn Spears, of all people, to write the strongest hook of the year: ‘I got the boy, you got the man.’ Leave it to Jana Kramer to sell the pain and conviction felt by the scorned ex who is seeing the boy she loved transformed into the man she always wanted him to be.

Eric-Church-Like-a-Wrecking-Ball2. Eric Church – ‘Like A Wrecking Ball’

When Eric Church brought the idea for this song to co-writer Casey Beathard he balked. At the time, Miley Cyrus was hitting big with her similarly titled smash. Church, who cannot be under estimated, knew exactly what he was doing. This tour de force is the most original song about making love to hit any radio format in recent memory. It’s also the coolest one-off artistic statement since Dwight Yoakam hit with “Nothing” twenty years ago. Eric Church is the strongest male country singer in the mainstream right now.

lee-ann-womack_9601. Lee Ann Womack – ‘Chances Are’

What needs to be said about Lee Ann Womack wrapping her exquisite voice around a pure country weeper? She came into her own on The Way I’m Livin’ and finally found the space to create the music in her soul. The album’s third single is a shining example of the perfect song matched with the only artist who has enough nuance to drive it home. Lee Ann Womack is simply one of the greatest female country singers ever to walk the earth.

 

Single Review: I’m With Her – ‘Crossing Muddy Waters’

cdca72c7ec5625f0f1f483fb_440x440“Crossing Muddy Waters” debuts I’m With Her, an impromptu collaboration between Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan. The trio, which formed serendipitously during the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, has graced us with a delicate reading of title track from John Hiatt’s fifteen-year-old acoustic record.

Since “Crossing Muddy Waters” is already a folksy bluegrass song, the trio’s arrangement isn’t a revelatory reinterpretation but rather a faithful take on Hiatt’s track. The production (Watkins on fiddle, Jarosz on banjo, and O’Donovan on guitar) is still gorgeous, beaming with an unexpectedly full sound considering the use of just three instruments.

The record is anchored by two distinctly different altos – O’Donovan gives the verses a delicate whisper while Watkins infuses the chorus with her distinctive smokiness. The effect gives the record a lighter than air quality, perfectly matching the delicateness they bring when plucking away on their instruments.

While the recording itself isn’t spellbinding, the addition of Watkins gives the tune an extra spice, uniqueness unmatched by O’Donovan and Jarosz. Watkins, who has found her voice experimenting through two vastly different solo albums, has grown increasingly more confident the more comfortable she becomes within the space she’s carved out for herself as an artist and performer. Her fascinating artistic development has informed her most recent work with Nickel Creek and now I’m With Her.

There’s nothing but potential here, which is the most exciting takeaway from this recording. I’m With Her has a solid foundation both sonically and vocally. They also have the opportunity to reap great rewards should they continue to develop and take risks. “Crossing Muddy Waters” is merely an amuse-bouche, a tiny bite of a full-length album they haven’t yet committed to make (they’re all working on solo records at the moment). If they do, it’ll hopefully contain original music that’ll allow the trio to find their collective voice as a band.

Grade A-

Note: “Crossing Muddy Waters” is part of a 7” currently available for pre-order at their online store. They pair the song with their version of “Be My Husband,” which was written by Andy Stroud and recorded by his wife Nina Simone in the mid-1960s.

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘Christmas Grass: The Collection’

christmas grassThis two-disc compilation of the best tracks from a series of three Christmas Grass albums released in 2002, 2004 and 2007 respectively comprises equal parts instrumentals and vocal tracks, and mixes the reverent with the fun/nostalgic side of the season. Most of the material is fairly well known, but the impeccable, cleanly played arrangements and excellent vocals make these versions a welcome addition to your Christmas playlists.

Dolly Parton gets things going to a bright and cheery start with her perkily irresistible reading of ‘Christmas Time’s A-Comin’’, backed by the harmonies of Dailey & Vincent. The duo also back up Russell Moore on the briskly cheerful ‘Christmas Time Is Near’.

A charmingly nostalgic look back at Christmases past in Tom T Hall’s likeable ‘Oh Christmas Candle’ is attractively sung by the trio of Jamie Dailey, Barry Scott and Doyle Lawson. Rhonda Vincent is warm and tender on Amy Grant’s Southern-themed ‘Tennessee Christmas’, while the Larkins take on a bluegrass version of Alabama’s ‘Christmas In Dixie’, which is quite nice.

Larry Sparks lends an unexpectedly wistful melancholy to ‘I Heard The Bells Ring On Christmas Day’ (with a lyric comprising a Longfellow poem), which I liked very much. My favourite track is the most downbeat one, ‘Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho’, about a man facing his first Christmas alone, sung with a gentle sadness by Ronnie Bowman with supporting harmonies from Darrin Vincent and Sharon White.

John Cowan provides some variety by contributinga sultry soul-style vocal on ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’, which works surprisingly well with the bluegrass instrumentation.

On the religious side of things, Dailey & Vincent sing a quietly reverent and beautifully harmonised version of ‘Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem’, set to a simple guitar and mandolin backing. This must be one of their earliest recordings together. Sonya Isaacs sounds lovely on ‘Mary, Did You Know?’, while Sarah Jarosz is pleasantly soothing on ‘One Bright Star’.

3 Fox Drive get two tracks, both rather forgettable: ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’, which I usually find boring anyway.

Approximately half the tracks are instrumental versions of well-known Christmas tunes (the first of the three albums this compilation draws on was all-instrumental). I was initially a little disappointed by this, even though they are all flawlessly played, but they make for contemplative interludes. My favourite is a gently melodic performance of ‘What Child Is This’ (the Renaissance tune ‘Greensleeves’), featuring Alison Krauss on fiddle and Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, which is quite lovely. The stately melody of ‘Silent Night’ (one of my favourite carols) is also very fine, while a bouncy ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ is fun.

This is a very tasteful bluegrass collection, leaning more to the mellow and contemplative sides of Christmas than to revelry. I would recommend it to all fans of bluegrass and acoustic music at this time of year.

Grade: A

Year In Review: Chris Dean’s Top 10 Albums of 2009

These albums are an interesting mix: a few indie albums, a comeback album, a mainstream major release (or 3) and a live album that shouldn’t go together. However, from the albums I heard this year, these were my favorites, the ones I kept listening to. Hopefully you agree, but maybe not and that’s what makes the end of the year so interesting! Maybe you’ll find something new on my list that you didn’t think to listen to.

10. Southern VoiceTim McGraw (Curb)

A last minute entry on my list, this album was not what I expected. I hadn’t even listened to his new singles, and I wish I’d paid more attention. This album is a mature bunch of story songs such as the morbid “Good Girls”. The most touching is ‘You Had To Be There,’ a scene in a prison where a father talks to his son through a glass window and a phone. Even lead single ‘It’s A Business Doing Pleasure With You’ is a fun pop-country song that manages to be fresh.

9. Destination Life – Rhonda Vincent (Rounder)

A finely crafted bluegrass album that’s entertaining from start to finish. An infectious version of ‘Stop the World (And Let Me Off)’ is by far my favorite track here.

8.Middle Cyclone – Neko Case (Anti)

I had the chance to see Neko in concert right before this CD came out, and I wish I had; this is a unique collection of natural disaster-inspired love songs. ‘This Tornado Loves You’ is awesome, and the album artwork is one of my favorites ever. I mean come on, holding a sword on a car hood? Yeah!

7. Live At Eddie’s Attic – The Civil Wars (Sensibility)

A free, digital, live album- this duo is a hidden gem. ‘Poison & Wine’is raw and heartbreaking- not to mention they can really sing live. Hopefully a studio album will be in the works…

6. The Long Way Home – Terri Clark (Bare Track)

A little more slick than I expected, nevertheless this album has very fine tunes, especially the AA-themed’A Million Ways To Run’ and the clever “If You Want Fire”.

5. Song Up In Her Head – Sarah Jarosz (Sugarhill)

In the vein of Nickel Creek, Sarah Jarosz’s album is progressive bluegrass with plenty of banjo. A cover of the Decemberist’s ‘Shankill Butchers’ is the highlight.

4. American Saturday Night – Brad Paisley (Arista)

I didn’t expect to like this album, but I did and I have been playing it for the past 6 months. ‘Everybody’s Here’ is a gorgeous ode to not having a good time at a party. Anyone else surprised that a solo, mainstream male artist made it on my list? I kind of am.

3. Sara Watkins – Sara Watkins (Nonesuch)

Her solo debut is surprisingly not a continuation of Nickel Creek (Although that would still be awesome!), Sara brings more country tunes. The mournful ‘All This Time’ and swingy ‘Any Old Time’ show her real talent.

2. Mountain Soul II – Patty Loveless (Saguaro Road)

Do I need to say anything? Probably not, but I will. I actually like this album more than the first Mountain Soul, but it doesn’t quite have a knockout track like ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’. ‘Diamond And The Crown’ with Emmylou Harris comes really close though, with it’s hymn-like organ and wonderful performance.

1.Revolution – Miranda Lambert (Sony)

I meant to write a review here for this album, but life got in the way. This album manages to be diverse and cohesive at the same time; a feat last accomplished so deftly by a mainstream artist when Trisha Yearwood released Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love. ‘The House That Built Me’ made me miss home so much I shed a tear, something that very few songs have the power to do.

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.

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