SARAH JAROSZ – ” World On The Ground ” Best Albums Of 2020

Posted: January 19, 2021 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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World on the Ground” is the fifth studio album by American singer–songwriter and I’m with Her member Sarah Jarosz. Produced by John Leventhal , the album was released on June 5th, 2020. The fourth track on the album, “Johnny,” a song with chord progressions reminiscent of the 1990 Nirvana song, “ Polly ,” 

“Johnny’s on the back porch drinking red wine/He knows that it could be the very last time/He raises the glass up to his lips and wonders.” This is the opening line to “Johnny,” the lead single from Sarah Jarosz’ fifth studio album “World on the Ground”. Jarosz didn’t do a great deal of press for the album – for obvious reasons, of course – and so there isn’t a great deal of information as to whether the story told in the song is real.

The titular Johnny is staring down the barrel as he prepares to go in for open heart surgery – one fast move and he’s gone. It’s a moment filled with drama and suspense, and its unresolved nature only drives the intrigue even further. Did Johnny make it? Where is Johnny now? Is he even real to begin with?

Who cares if Johnny is real? “Johnny” is no less authentic because of it. It’s a striking, harmonious and emotive slice of Americana. Its lines trace around a bright octave mandolin, Levon Helm-esque drumming and rustic close harmonies that tie well into Jarosz’s bluegrass background. It’s certainly poppier than her earliest alt-country work, but that too doesn’t make it any less authentic. Any less real. From the second its tape-loop drone guides you in to the second its strummed mandolin lick guides you out, everything in “Johnny” is as real as it gets.

If you have kept an eye on the career of Sarah Jarosz, you’ll be fully aware that she doesn’t limit the influences in her musical universe to just folk and bluegrass. From funky rootsy Prince covers to nailing a definitive version of a Tom Waits classic, it has been clear that she trusts her muse instinctively and puts her music and art in the driving seat. Very much like the character Eve sketched out in the opening tune on this album, Sarah keeps “following the sound”. It is certainly an opening number that sets its table neatly, preparing for the delights that are about to unfold for the listener. A small-town girl with a sense of wonder opens her heart and mind to the possibilities over the other side of the wilderness.

As the music swoons and soothes, Eve locks in her resolve and thickens her skin to protect against the world that will try to muddy her insides and corrupt the good inside. This theme is touched upon again on the second tune, the title track that is illustrated on the minimal yet arresting cover art depicting a brace of birds. “When the world on the ground is going to swallow you down, sometimes you’ve got to pay it no mind”.

Her stories are carved like a craftsman’s antique furniture, with an attention to detail and capacity for nuance lending these sketches a depth and realism that ensures repeated listening is a rewarding experience. And Sarah is far from simplistic in weaving these threads of escape and adventure, she knows that reality or tragedy is more than likely going to bite at some stage. Like the character on track three, who ends up back in her hometown with dreams that have been frazzled away. That song, ‘Hometown’, has the timbre of a classic Springsteen ballad, “on the verge of a breakdown, back in her hometown, never thought she’d settle down in a place like this”. There’s a theme of escape from the suburban backwaters, chasing dreams that have a habit of meeting a head-on collision with the harsher side of the real world, a solid touchstone for the Boss. 

Something in the creation and execution of these songs seems to state that this a musical talent on an upward trajectory. The songs are memorable, they are instant, they have thoughtful details and they overflow with drama, emotion and heart. Most of all they are little earworms and you will want to play them loud and singalong. It is that kind of album, stick it on while you’re cooking the dinner or sit down and listen properly. It works either way, Sarah Jarosz is pulling off that age-old musical trick here of being very, very good. I am going to be following her from here on in with high expectations.

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