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Sarah Jarosz Gifts a Snapshot of Love at Sold-Out Fine Line Show

Photo by Smouse

Last updated on March 22nd, 2024 at 05:51 pm

2024 has just begun, but loads of great music has already been released. One of the best is Jarosz’s fantastic late January release, Polaroid Lovers. Impressive for its thoughtful writing and rich, full production, Jarosz’s seventh solo full-length album strikes several resonant emotional chords. 

Jarosz’s works are no stranger to accolades, winning four Grammy awards and being nominated for six more. Nevertheless, Polaroid Lovers stands apart in her catalog as one of her most wide-ranging records, musically and emotionally. Across eleven tracks, softer nostalgic moments gracefully mingle with mid-tempo and driving work to create stellar results. Though many will put the “Americana” label on the music, the album’s pop sensibility is one of its many strengths. These are undeniably catchy songs, as memorable as they are tasteful, well-written, and heartfelt.

Photo by Smouse

Jarosz took a different approach to writing for Polaroid Lovers compared to her previous solo records, specifically embracing the process of co-writing much more. While the powerhouse writer and virtuosic musician has collaborated widely in the past (including as one-third of the Americana trio I’m With Her), her past solo projects had primarily featured her writing.

The results speak for themselves. While many of the collaborators are heavy hitters (Daniel Tashian, Natalie Hemby, and Ruston Kelly among them), Jarosz’s singular voice as a singer and songwriter always shines through with vivid, razor-sharp writing that often deals with love in all phases.

Perhaps it is appropriate then, given the themes on Polaroid Lovers, that Jarosz played a sold-out Fine Line show on Valentine’s Day. Any night would be a good night to hear these tunes, but Wednesday’s show felt extra special for many in attendance. Dipping back into her catalog with “Green Lights,” “Annabelle Lee,” and “Build Me Up From Bones,” the setlist felt timeless. An extremely attentive audience soaked in all 19 songs, including a Paul Simon cover (Kathy’s Song) and a fitting “Timber I’m Falling In Love”  by Patty Loveless. 

We caught up with Jarosz before the show to discuss the new album and direction of her music. 

Photo by Smouse

Below is an interview with Sarah Jarosz. The following has been edited for consistency.

Music in Minnesota: I know this album was deliberately more collaborative for you from a writing standpoint than your previous solo albums. Can you talk about what spurred that change in approach?

Sarah Jarosz: I had just moved to Nashville not long before starting to work on this record, right before the pandemic, from New York. And I think finally living here…though I had spent so much time here in Nashville, so I wasn’t new to it in a certain sense – I made my first four records here. But actually living here and calling this place my home made me more keen on reaching out to people in this very vibrant musical community to connect with folks and feel like more a part of the community myself.

I think that in combination with coming out of the pandemic and having had a lot of time at home to sit with my own thoughts, and feeling like I was intrigued to sort of sit down with other people, and after so much time, wanting to get the creative juices flowing sitting down with other folks. At the beginning of 2022, I decided I was just going to reach out to some other writers that I really admire and who I had really wanted to write with but didn’t feel like it was quite the right time before. So that’s really what led to sitting down and co-writing a bunch of this album.

MIM: Were there any unexpected advantages you weren’t anticipating from the more collaborative approach? Or were there any unanticipated challenges?

SJ: To be clear, I have done a lot of collaborating in the past, especially my band with Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins (I’m with Her), and I have written with people for prior albums, just so that’s clear out of respect for people I have written with before this album. But I think I was just ready to embrace it in a way for my own records that I haven’t felt before. I think in terms of what I learned is that I think it’s important to sort of follow your own gut when being creative, and also just learning more and more when I do sit down and write with people, it’s a lesson in letting the song lead you to where you need to go, and sort of letting your ego get out of the way a little bit, especially when you’re writing with other people because you have to be open.

There’s this openness that has to happen in order to get to the heart of the song. If you’re closed off to things before you even start, you’re just going to hit dead ends. I think just learning to be more open in terms of the creative process and kind of feeling like there’s not much to lose by doing it. In the end, you’re just exploring, and you’re being creative with someone, and what could be better than that? I think when I was younger, 17, and writing my first record, I did think there was something to lose – that being my own voice because I was still finding my own voice at that time. It’s kind of nice now, at 32, to feel like, “No, there’s nothing to lose” in exploring the creative process.

MIM: You’ve covered so much musical terrain throughout your career. This record, compared to your first record, is so different and there’s so much variation within there. As your artistry and voice have evolved and changed, how have your tastes as a listener changed, and what is the biggest driver of that evolution?

SJ: I think a lot of it is just time. Time spent doing this and because of so much time and work over the years, reaching more of a point of confidence in my own abilities and confidence in what I bring to the table musically, and that confidence allows an unlocking of sorts into a newer territory. I think in terms of my listening tastes evolving over time, I think in a way, I’ve always listened to a wide swath of different types of music. So, in a way, that hasn’t changed in that it’s always been so varied.

What has changed is my curiosity and my willingness to explore, and I think with my own music, the song always has to lead the way for what the arrangement and recording winds up being. I think in the past, I’ve always had a strong sense of how I think the songs should live on the recording. In the past, that meant no drums and fewer electric instruments because that wasn’t what I was hearing in my head when I was writing the songs. With this batch of songs, it was very much what I was hearing in my head. And so while I sort of dipped my toes into those sonic territories in the past, this time, I felt total freedom to just jump all the way in – feeling more confident to just try things that I love hearing in my head for these songs.

MIM: You had mentioned all the collaboration in your career, on record, on stage, and in a number of other ways. I’m curious, which of those collaborations have been most impactful for you?

SJ: It is hard to narrow down (laughs). I mean, the first thing that came to mind is my bandmates in I’m with Her, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins. That collaboration really came at a time when I really needed it. I had made four solo albums, and I was feeling like I wanted some outside inspiration, and it sort of magically came to be at Telluride in Colorado when that band was born. I learned so much from them as humans, first and foremost, and as a musician grew so much through making the music we’ve made together.

Another collaboration that comes to mind as someone I’m so grateful to have known was David Crosby. File that under absolute “pinch me”, I can’t believe I got to know him and sing with him. I think when people who are so solidified in their careers and don’t need to reach out to younger people but do anyway, it means the world. It inspires me to want to keep doing it.

MIM: I saw that you recently scored the documentary June. I’m curious how you found your way into that world and what the most rewarding part of that work is for you.

SJ: That was really out of the blue and such an immense honor to be asked. It wasn’t something I threw my hat in the ring for or anything. I was just asked by the people who were making the movie if I would do it. It was such an honor. I’d never done anything like that before, so it was very much a new experience for me in terms of getting some of the footage and writing specifically for that purpose. So special to be able to take part in. The fact that it was made to shine a light on her story after all these years is magnificent, and they did a great job. It’s one of those things where I was just trying to support the story and not distract from it. It was really an amazingly cool thing to work on.

Photo by Smouse

As the sold-out audience trickled out of the Fine Line, there was a range of compliments from fans new and old. Jarosz’s ability to lean into 90’s country with her newer “Runaway Train,” but then silence the room in complete awe with “Ring Them Bells,” a Bob Dylan cover, exemplifies her talent on all levels. For all the lovers holding each other tight leaving the venue, it’s a snapshot we all want to hold onto. 

Written by Aaron Williams


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