Sarah Jarosz, Follow Me Down (Sugar Hill, 2011)

Despite being only 20, Texan native Sarah Jarosz has already built up a sizable following among bluegrass fans with her pure voice and instrumental virtuosity. She recorded her second album, called Follow Me Down, while simultaneously preparing for her second year of college. Saying that Follow Me Down reflects a maturity beyond Jarosz' years might sound like a cliché, but Jarosz is already a first-rate performer on the mandolin, octave mandolin, and banjo, and her songrwriting does not lag that far behind.

Plucked strings dominate the sound of Follow Me Down. Jarosz plays the octave mandolin more than anything else, but she also plays regular mandolin, banjo, and guitar. Her skill as a player is particularly evident on the traditional-sounding "Annabelle Lee" and the blistering instrumental "Old Smitty." Jarosz gets help from some familiar guests as well; Shawn Colvin sings backup on the opening song "Run Away," and Bela Fleck's very busy banjo really spices up the single-worthy "Come Around." While most of the songs are original compositions, Jarosz does like to sprinkle in a few covers. The most notable of these is a Tennessee waltz arrangement of Radiohead's "The Tourist"; it's certain to catch listeners off guard, but I take that as a good thing.

Ultimately, though, this is an album made by and for people who like the sound of a good strum -- and if you're one of those people, Follow Me Down comes strongly recommended. Sarah Jarosz may still be in school, but she has the chops of a seasoned veteran. The sky is the limit for her right now, and I look forward to hearing where she goes next.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

A live performance of "Come Around"

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