Folk Seer Sarah Jarosz Shines at a Beautiful Moon
Sarah Jarosz and Ten String Symphony Bring Folk and Fiddles to Landmark
With songs like the Poe-inspired “Annabelle Lee“ (2011), Sarah Jarosz has been busy alternately absorbing and lighting up the folk and bluegrass circuits. In venues like Prairie Home Companion, Austin City Limits, where she appeared with Steve Martin and other luminaries, she has, beyond her years, shown a songwriter’s instinct for stirring waters that run deep.
In last evening’s performance, Jarosz delivered one of the most memorable concerts we have heard at Landmark in a decade of fine concert-going.
While it’s likely that many in attendance were already fans of the artist’s work and multi-instrumental skill, this print recollection is an opportunity to showcase her lyric-writing craft.
Start with the smoothly crafted “Green Lights.” Her perspective conjoins the far and the close:
. . . all the corners of the universe
That light could fall to
I’m standing next to you
Follow this with a measured “Mile on the Moon”:
I dreamed we fell into the night
Your darkness shined the brightest light
We drove for miles on the moon
I’d go anywhere with you
In “Build Me Up from Bones,” she sings, standing for all the world like Innocence against the ruthless largesse of the universe, jarring simile in hand:
The moon’s a fingernail
Scratching on the back
of the night in which we lay beside
Later, in “1,000 Things” the tribute is to language itself:
The [words] that introduce themselves
say a thousand things to me.
To which one might respond with her own earlier verse:
So I translate, I fly, I skate
Where child of sky and earth belongs
Yes, Yes I, Yes I hear you.
Jarosz can write — and sing — with a Baez-like silkiness, as in “Take Me Back.” But her songwriting style periodically introduces a gently surprising suspended note or modal harmony that slips outside the folk and country genre. Hear this immediately in “My Muse,” or in the ascending “Yes, Yes, I hear you.” or the “Hold me tight” passage in “Run Away.”
These creative cracks in the mold make all the difference.
Backed by guitarist-songwriter Anthony DaCosta and double bassist Jeff Picker, Jarosz gave a concert that was nothing short of a magnificent performance — especially when DaCosta was accompanying on electric. More on that later.
When the trio left the stage, it was time for an encore, and the enthusiastic crowd’s appreciation was rewarded. Jarosz returned alone, picked up DaCosta‘s electric and performed a riveting version of “Jacqueline.”
With living room intimacy, she invites you to an intimate, contemplative place, ostensibly inspired by the Central Park Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, but as the tonality warns, there is more beneath “your dark and misty blue,” beneath what is “covered up with a blanket of white.” More stirring beneath the surface.
Humble to the last note, Jarosz, DaCosta and Picker reunited to finish the evening with a tribute-cover of Nanci Griffith’s “I Wish It Would Rain” (1988). It was a pleasing tribute to Jarosz’s own roots.
Yes, Sarah Jarosz, for a moment we are seduced. If only we could follow you down, run away. But we can’t, because of a thousand moons, because of Khonsu, because of a thousand moons whose “darkness shines the brightest light” (“Mile on the Moon”), a thousand moons which Ms. Jarosz has yet to describe.
In software engineering and graphic arts, the notion of design pattern reflects a general framework, such as you might follow with an A-frame house. The great innovator and Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard paired with Duncan Sheik or Suzanne Vega (see earlier rave Landmark reviews here and here) is one such pattern. Leonard is a leading exponent of the use of electric guitar to create dramatic, moody swells and rock-and-roll call-and-response riffs. Whether Anthony DaCosta is a Leonard disciple is unclear (though their paths have likely crossed), but DaCosta has mastered the pattern.
There are many instrumental lineups in Sarah Jarosz YouTube performances, but none sound better than in this night’s trio concert with DaCosta and Picker. DaCosta, who also contributed a higher-than-average voice that paired nicely with a woman’s, created arrangements and effects that transformed Jarosz songs. The result left many in the audience at a loss for words. His technique was delay, or reverb, or volume swells, but the choice was always tasteful and supported each song’s emotional character. DaCosta accomplished this without virtuosic distraction, even when he performed his own “Neighbors,” a fine tune in a Jarosz-like style.
Moonlight is mostly reflected sunlight, but this fact strikes an anthropomorphically false note. The Moon’s albedo, the Purkinje effect, underlie the hints in “Green Lights”:
Green lights and open road
The skies of endless blue
That’s the feeling I get with you
Whether Jarosz followed this scientific breadcrumb or not, best you be a student of young Sarah Jarosz. The performer is entranced by moonlight, by what its foreboding, mysterious seduction inspires. Still discovering herself in a world graced by a warm and growing audience, she writes as one familiar with the cool of solitude. Of its treacherous colorings.
One day moonlight will interpenetrate still more fully, make her songs all the more luminous. Find your own “Green Lights.” Stick around. Under the moonlight.
Up overhead the stars are burning
Gravity’s bending time and space
The galaxies are slowly turning.
Double-Double: Ten String Symphony
The opening act featured two five-string violinists, Rachel Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer who compromise Ten String Symphony. This critic’s readers know him to be a strong advocate for the five string violin, which adds a fifth low C string (that’s the low string you’d find on a viola). The additional string is leaves room for plenty of bowing and fingering dexterity and adds an “alto” register that can offset the instrument’s tendency toward screechiness — even for less capable players than these two.
Ten String Symphony packages this “technology” in duet form, but, to the delight of the Port Washington audience, with vocal harmony ably contributed by both musicians. The result, while still clearly “country fiddle,” was more rich and full than solo fiddle. The pair demonstrated this first with “Throw Away the Moon,” but more so with a medley of jigs: ”I Lost My Love” | “Recession Birthday”| Kilmartin Glen Campsite.” The jigs were sometimes fugue-like, with counterpoint that had an intentional Baroque quality. When both violinists were playing double-stops, it’s, well, double the pleasure, and the jigs showed Ten String at their very best.
With Ms. Baiman alternating between banjo and violin, there was variety aplenty. Their song “Someone To Be Good For” could have been a sly reference to their fans. Ten String ended with “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” an adaptation of the Sylvia Plath villanelle of the same name, and “Anna Jane,” which more than any other single tune took advantage of that fifth string.
When Plath wrote the lines Baiman sang tonight,
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
she must have been wrestling with the same shadows cast by the light of that enslaved orb. Expect Ten String Symphony to say more about this, likely in the form of a defiant jig or two.
I work a lot and live far less than I could,
but the moon is beautiful and there are
blue stars . . . . I live the chaste song of my heart.
— Garcia Lorca to Emilia Llanos Medinor,
November 25, 1920
This quote appeared in a dedication from Rita Dove’s poem “Trans-” which ends
O how the operatic impulse wavers!
Dip deep, my darling, into the blank pool.
Speaking of the 2016 Undercurrents album, Jarosz said “It was important for me to start with light, and then go through darker times, and stubbornness and strength and weakness, and then end up on a hopeful note.” (Heights Theater review).
Opening or Co-Headline
You can also see DaCosta showing his gearhead credentials in a demonstration of the Collings Guitar Statesman LC.
Landmark on Main Street Partners in Performing Arts for 2016–2017 season: Town of North Hempstead, Peter and Jeri Dejana Family Foundation, Peter and Dorette Forman Charitable Foundation, Winthrop University Hospital, Harding Real Estate, New York State Council of the Arts
March 17, 2017
folk music, Americana, Sarah Jarosz, roots rock, Patti Griffin
Originally published at DarkViolin.