Sarah Jarosz may not be a particularly well-known name outside of folk/Americana circles (here in the UK anyway) but she’s made significant strides over the last decade. She’s released four solo albums, won three Grammy Awards and joined forces with Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still and Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek to form modern folk trio I’m With Her.
World On The Ground is Jarosz’s fifth album and sees a refinement of the style she established on 2016’s Undercurrent album. It shows her to be a purveyor of songs that have an air of country or bluegrass without being constrained or defined by these genres. It sees her in an increasingly assured, if occasionally wistful, mood with the focus resting on her storytelling lyrical style. These are songs of rich detail that draw the listener in, making us feel like observers watching the stories play out. There may be a classic Americana-influenced sound on display here and some of its lyrical themes may cover familiar ground but she delivers on both fronts in fresh, convincing fashion.
Maggie perhaps best encapsulates the album, being inspired by the chance meeting of an old school friend, with Jarosz delving deeper into her personal circumstances to construct an engaging, imagined narrative. Jarosz has also said it was one of many tracks shaped while listening to Big Thief, a statement which finds backing here. It’s one of a few songs where characters are seeking escape, leaving smaller home towns in search for a better life elsewhere (“you’ve been picking through the weeds too long, surrounded by the echoes of a dream gone wrong”).
Johnny is cut from similar cloth, showing how adept she is at shining light on to individual life journeys (“how could a boy from a little bay town grow up to be a man, fly the whole world round?”). Album opener Eve recounts another tale of discovery and resolution, instilling us with empathy for the song’s protagonist. The fact that three of the tracks are named after people only adds to the personal, intimate feel that runs through the album.
Orange And Blue might be the strongest song here and demonstrates her increasingly confident, mature writing. Delivered in the first person this time, it’s a thoughtful, lamenting trip back in time that maybe retains a greater sense of mystery than other tracks on the album. Musically, it also has shades of Gillian Welch, although she naturally sounds somewhat less world-weary (the last song on the album, the banjo-led Little Satchel positions her even more closely to Welch). Elsewhere, there’s hints of Laura Cantrell in the mellifluence of Hometown and the musically assertive I’ll Be Gone even brings to mind Sheryl Crow. What Do I Do and Empty Square ensure the high standards are maintained until the end. World On The Ground has an accessibility and lucidity that should see Jarosz win new fans. This is a highly accomplished outing by an artist very much in the ascendancy.