Leave it to Craft Recordings, the label that impeccably has a knack for sensing the right timing for reissues, to deliver a vinyl reissue of Build Me Up From Bones, the chart-topping third album from 2021 GRAMMY® nominee Sarah Jarosz.
Originally released in 2013, Build Me Up From Bones found the then 22-year-old Jarosz displaying a new sense of confidence as a songwriter. Just five years earlier, when the Wimberley, TX, native was still in high school, she signed to the celebrated Americana label Sugar Hill Records. There, the young artist quickly established herself as a musical force with her 2009 debut, Song Up in Her Head, and 2011’s Follow Me Down. But Build Me Up From Bones, recorded amid Jarosz’s final semester at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, demonstrated significant artistic growth and maturity. It was the one that firmly established her reputation.
Writing nine of the album’s 11 tracks, Jarosz signaled a major shift in her themes, writing more honestly and vulnerably, thereby connecting with her listeners on a more personal level. In her earlier work she often wrote in third-person narratives. Produced by Jarosz and her longtime collaborator Gary Paczosa (Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek), Build Me Up From Bones showcased the artist’s warm and expressive vocals, as well as her impressive work on the mandolin, guitar, and banjo. Jarosz’s longtime bandmates—fiddle player Alex Hargreaves and cellist Nathaniel Smith—joined t, alongside an impressive line-up of all-star guests, including legendary guitarist and producer Jerry Douglas, singer-songwriter Darrell Scott, multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, bassist Viktor Krauss, kindred spirit Aife O’Donovan, Chris Thile of Nickel Creek, pedal steel master Dan Dugmore, and more.
The opener “Over the Edge’ is fueled by Dugmore’s pedal steel and Jedd Hughes’ acoustic guitar while Jarosz plays octave mandolin in a contemporary-sounding rock style while the banjo-driven “Fuel the Fire” reverts to traditional mountain music. That’s one of the compelling features of the album, the mix of normal structural patterns with unconventional narratives and chord progressions. The emphasis is on mood and texture to be purposely loose as if to let the music flow over you like the gentlest setting of your shower. The ballad “Mile on the Moon” has a slow, walking kind of pace with an uncanny blend of acoustic and electric guitars. The title track leans toward folk with her vocal accompanied by mandolin, two string players, and O’Donovan’s harmony vocal. No one tune has the same instrumental configuration.
“Dark Road” offers glimpses of electric Americana, newgrass, and contemporary folk, and that special blend of Jerry Douglas’ dobro and Darrell Scott’s electric guitar. Yet, arguably the album highlight is its most familiar song, Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” done famously not just by the writer and many others, perhaps most notably Jerry Garcia. Hers is completely different, with a drastic slowing of the tempo and a sparse accompaniment of only Smith’s plucked cello. Jarosz’s sense of phrasing is especially poetic and unexpected, to the point where we at times feel that it’s an entirely different song in her hands. “1000 Things” brings in a Celtic motif, augmented by lush harmonies. But there are other highlights too.
The haunted love song “Gone Too Soon” stands out; her banjo is complemented by a full band that features Douglas and Scott with Kate Rusby’s chilling harmonies adding to the effect. Her genre wandering is on full display in her jazz-like interpretation of Newsom’s “The Book of Right-on,” giving the lyrics a bluesy tinge while playing a syncopated mandolin in conversation with cello and violin in the jam-like, longest instrumental passage on the album. The closer, “Re-Arrange the Art,” is also especially memorable. Jarosz’s traditionally picked banjo is the only prominently heard instrument, as lap steels, acoustic bass, and Wurlitzer weave in and out as the singer’s voice is filtered through vaguely futuristic effects. The lyrics speak of lost love that walks the line between emotional stress, loneliness, and open-mindedness. Again, O’Donovan’s harmonies add texture.
At this point in her career, Jarosz had long-established her instrumental prowess. She makes that subservient to the skills of the many outstanding players here but more importantly in service to the songs. This is where her songwriting firmly takes hold; consider it a launching pad for a career that remains on a steep trajectory.