Barely twenty years old, Texas-born Sarah Jarosz has such a good handle on this Americana thing, she sounds better than some folks twice her age. While she is rooted in bluegrass and its Appalachian origins, Jarosz is no traditionalist. Her style shows that she’s absorbed the sleek modern approaches of Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss, the pop-flavored, confessional neo-folk of Shawn Colvin, and the jazzgrass (jazz and bluegrass) of David Grisman and Mike Marshall. Jarosz is also a fine songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, banjo, guitar, piano).
Jarosz sings in a dusky alto that mixes and balances the bitter and the sweet, feeling hopeful and forlorn. This disc begins with “Run Away,” which combines the wistfulness and detail of Blue-era Joni Mitchell and the haunted, brooding aspects of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. She adapts the Edgar Allan Poe poem “Annabelle Lee” and makes it sound as if it came from the trad-song catalog of Doc Watson or Mike Seeger. Listen to her achingly beautiful version of Radiohead‘s “Slow Down” and not only will you believe there’s such a thing as psychedelic bluegrass, but the gauzy, heartrending harmonies will stick with you like the first truly cold day of winter. Of her originals, the rousing yet mysterious-sounding “Old Smitty” romps in a zone where Celtic folk, jazz, and hill-country string bands get their collective groove on. Her accompanists include such aces as Chris Thile, Viktor Krauss, and Béla Fleck, but don’t get Follow Me Down just for the “guest stars” — it’s a varied, vibrant, mature slab of acoustica. (Sugar Hill)