Review: With Her Latest Album, Sarah Jarosz Partakes of Both Inspiration and Optimism

Sarah Jarosz/Blue Heron Suite/Rounder
Four out of five stars 

As a meditative song cycle revolving by difficult circumstances—specifically her mother’s bout with breast cancer and the devastation that beset her former hometown in the wake of Hurricane Harvey—Blue Heron Suite finds singer/songwriter Sarah Jarosz detouring from both her usual solo style and her ensemble efforts with her super group of sorts, I’m With Her. It’s an album informed by atmospheric ambiance, all fleeting melodies that convey the mood and melancholia that temper those scenarios she shares. The title itself reflects her early encounters with the great blue herons that populated the Texas beaches where she once walked with her mother as a child. She found that the birds stoic presence and sense of calm gave her the inspiration she needed in her quest for optimism, even in the midst of mayhem.

While a narrative that describes difficulty and uncertainty doesn’t bode well for the possibility of an upbeat encounter, this suite of songs is as haunting as they are harrowing, thanks in large part to the delicate designs and the precision that applied in the playing. To be sure, the spare arrangements leave little room for elaboration, but nevertheless, a meditative mood is suspended throughout. Bowed bass dominates the varied interludes, but even within those stripped down settings, those tender tones are enormously affecting. The wistful strains of “Painted Blue,” the shimmering guitars gliding through “Morning” and the celestial sound of “Mama” leave a lingering impression that effectively overrides any sobering sentiments. 

Much has been made of the talent and tenacity Jarosz has exhibited since early in her career, when she was hailed as a teen prodigy while quickly winning the respect of her peers. In a certain sense, the new album is a culmination of those accomplishments, a decidedly mature work that evokes rumination and deliberation in equal measure. Subdued and sublime, it finds hope in spite of happenstance and wisdom in reflection. These are indeed solitary songs, but the sentiments they share may resonate with those who have found themselves overwhelmed by the ongoing onslaught of trauma and travail of the past year.

It’s tempting to say that Jarosz has made her masterpiece, but then again, with one so young, it’s too soon to be certain. However one thing is clear… she’s clearly come close.

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