in performance: pearl jam

eddie vedder performing last night with pearl jam. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

eddie vedder performing last night at rupp arena with pearl jam. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

A sign of the times was posted throughout Rupp Arena last night, a curious testament to the staying power of Pearl Jam. It read thus: “Due to the nature of moshing and body surfing, we ask that you refrain from such activities due to the injuries that could occur.”

No concerns there. Together for 25 years and with frontman Eddie Vedder now an agile 51, there was little chance the heralded Seattle band was going to get too physical in facing a massive Rupp crowd of 18,000. What one witnessed instead was a six-man unit (four founding members, drummer Matt Cameron and keyboardist Boom Gaspar) that played a no frills program full of exact and tireless intensity. For nearly three hours, Vedder and company paced themselves with tunes of punkish immediacy and, at times, folkish intimacy.

The band bridged a championed past with a perhaps less chronicled present at the show’s onset. First up was a pair of tunes from Pearl Jam’s most recent album, 2013’s Lightning Bolt. The record’s show-opening title song might have suggested a moderation of the band’s coarser drive from years gone by. But that was before Pearl Jam’s ace in the hole, guitarist Mike McCready, let loose with a series of siren like squalls. Such detonations would become familiar artillery throughout the evening. All of that, however, proved a set-up for Mind Your Manners, a sonic rampage of rifling guitar runs that fell between punk and metal coupled with lyrics delivered by Vedder with the rapidity and drive of a jackhammer.

Then the past came flooding in with gems from the band’s first two albums – Ten’s Why Go and Vs.Animal. Instead of the bountiful angst that seemed to grip the songs over two decades ago, last night’s performances were muscular and precise without losing any of the original versions’ abundant vitality. The contact the songs made with the crowd, as well as the audience energy then hurled back to the stage, was instantaneous.

The artist-audience connection, in fact, was considerable throughout the performance. Sometimes it was obvious, as in Corduroy, where Vedder and the crowd engaged in a séance-like call and response wail that led into the song’s volatile refrain (“Everything has chains, absolutely nothing’s changed”). Ditto for the back-and-forth chant that distinguished Daughter. From there, the interaction took on less visible forms, like an encore cover of The Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away that the audience sang along with as fervently as it did on most of the warhorse originals, and a blistering, eight minute set closing update of Rearviewmirror. During the latter, the steady roar of the audience was as integral to the unrelenting groove as McCready’s ragged guitar ambience, Vedder’s seething vocals and the drum eruption from Cameron that cut loose just as the song seemed like it was finally going to settle.

There were scores of other delights, to boot. A cover of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb (dedicated to Louisville author Mark Wilkerson and his book on paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young) bled into an equally ferocious Do the Evolution. The one-two punch served as the highlight of two extended encore segments that accounted for nearly half of the show’s length while Betterman, played near the show’s conclusion (with a nod to the ‘80s English Beat hit Save It For Later), served as an affirmation of all the unsettled celebration that came before it. A lament of sorts to begin with, the song ran from bittersweet eulogizing to a finale chorus of pure rock ‘n’ roll jubilation. Such was the coarse Pearl Jam rode steadily last night – a journey of still-vital rock urgency, sans the moshing

in performance: james taylor

james taylor performing last night at rupp arena. photo by matt goins.

james taylor performing last night at rupp arena. photo by matt goins.

It wasn’t the most flamboyant of entrances for a veteran pop star, even one as seemingly retiring as James Taylor. Prior to beginning his first ever Rupp Arena concert, the songsmith took off his cap and bowed to the crowd of 8,300. He looked less like a celebrity and more like a cabbie come to collect a fare.

Such an unassuming profile, however, more than befitted a concert that relished in simple, folk-pop comfort. For over two hours, Taylor played decades-old favorites, almost apologetically delved into five fine works from his 2015 album Before This World and, in some the show’s finest moments, uncorked a few generous surprises.

One of the latter opened the performance – a relative obscurity from 1975’s Gorilla album called Wandering. It was a beaut of tune to begin with, too – one with such melodic delicacy and wistful vocal deposition that you tended to overlook the verse about how the protagonist’s thief father was executed by hanging. Such was the genial nature of the song’s lyrical construction and Taylor’s lullaby-like delivery.

Sometimes the arrangements altered several of the more familiar soundscapes, like the way all-star drummer Steve Gadd erupted with a few rolls of thunder as the otherwise plaintive Country Road drew to a close or the way Mexico turned into a travelogue featuring a mariachi turn by trumpeter Walt Fowler and saxophonist Lou Marini before percussionist Louis Conte veered the resulting jam straight to his native Cuba.

But these were simple adjustments in frame settings for tunes Taylor’s fans know every syllable and note of. Luckily, these are also works that Taylor, given the hundreds and even thousands of times he has performed them, still sings with fresh and almost impish vigor. His voice, still clear in tone and intent, has also lost none of its unhurried charm.

That leaves the songs themselves, the majority of which are quite extraordinary. Sure, Your Smiling Face, which almost approximated rock ‘n’ roll, and the blues-jazz party piece Steamroller didn’t push the envelope much. But what did was taking arguably Taylor’s most unabashedly comforting tune, Shower the People, and using a chorus snippet of Purple Rain as its intro and the titanic soul voice of Arnold McCuller as the captain of its coda. It was part eulogy, part affirmation and part testimony.

Speaking of eulogies, Taylor’s best known work, Fire and Rain, still packed the emotional impact of a tidal wave. What was surprising last night wasn’t how quietly commanding the song remains, but how a story of such overpowering sadness could still sound so unobtrusive and darkly intimate.

The Before This World music fit in nicely with the classics, as well, especially Jolly Springtime, which was prefaced by the album’s brief instrumental title tune. Both combined to form a saga of new beginnings, but the story was told with the same quiet contentment that dressed Taylor’s oldest material, like the homesick 1968 reverie Carolina on My Mind, performed earlier in the evening.

It should be noted that Taylor hasn’t been on a Lexington stage since the early ‘70s. As such, veteran fans that have witnessed his frequent performances over the years in neighboring cities might have viewed last night’s show as something of a rerun. But for everyone else wondering why in the world it took half a lifetime for him to play Rupp, patience was rewarded. With cap literally in hand, Taylor returned like an old friend, full of stories that still stir and soothe the soul.

lonnie mack, 1941-2016

lonnie mack.

lonnie mack.

There is no disrespecting Prince in noting he wasn’t the only music colossus that died yesterday. Buried under waves of purple posts today and yesterday was news of the passing of Lonnie Mack, one of the true guitar innovators of the ‘60s.

Mack could best be described as an early prototype of the guitar hero. Through a series of classic instrumental singles from the early 1960s– specifically, Wham and a hotwired revision of Chuck Berry’s Memphis – his innovations were less defined by his technical prowess, although he had that in abundance. With Mack, it was more about the sound he got out of the guitar – a charge that was exact, expressive and potent. There were elements of surf and twang, of blues and boogie and of pure effervescent rock ‘n’ roll.

There was just enough dirt in his playing to toy with the inherent country accents of his tunes. But Mack was also a piledriver of a player whose more muscular tunes possessed a roots-friendly sound that bordered on swing, although the rock and pop undercurrents kept things very melodic.

You could detect Mack’s inspiration in the playing of numerous disciples, from the more briskly packed works John Fogerty ignited with Creedence Clearwater Revival (check out Ramble Tamble from Cosmo’s Factory) to the music of his most outspoken protégé, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Thanks in no small part to Vaughan’s very vocal accolades, Mack’s career enjoyed an unexpected renaissance in the ‘80s, releasing four albums in five years for the Chicago based Alligator label – the most essential being the 1989 live album, Attack of the Killer V (a reference to the famed Flying V, his guitar model of choice). With the Alligator albums came frequent performance stops in Lexington, most notably at the long-since-demolished Breeding’s across from Rupp Arena.

Essential Mack listening: 1964’s The Wham of that Memphis Man (the definitive representation of his initial ‘60s sound), 1971’s The Hills of Indiana (a vastly more reserved and organic country-leaning exercise) and 1985’s Strike Like Lightning (the first Alligator record, a blues-rock joyride with Vaughan as co-producer and guest guitar star).

But to hear the lyricism and power of Mack at his best, just click on a youtube video for Wham and experience two minutes of pure musical joy that cemented his place alongside Dick Dale and Link Wray as one of the cornerstone guitarslingers of his, or any, generation.

prince, 1958-2016

prince.

prince.

Oh, there were stories surrounding the December 1984 Rupp Arena debut of Prince. He wanted his dressing room painted purple. He wanted his hotel room painted purple. He wanted a bath tub painted purple It didn’t matter if the tales were true or not, although the latter request was granted and became one of the Rupp show’s more outrageous stage props. They all fit the persona so completely of a star that had reached a level of commercial popularity the previous summer with Purple Rain that equaled his far more established critical and artistic reputation.

To many, Prince was the epitome of celebrity. He was a funk-soul renegade, a monster guitarist and a restlessly creative and prolific recording artist. But it was his sheer stage presence, along with an innate ability to embrace and shatter social extremes within pop tradition, that will forever define a career unexpectedly halted yesterday at the age of 57.

To that end, Prince joined a very short list of artists whose cultural impact was profound enough to completely shift the way an audience perceived pop, soul, funk and rock music. There was Little Richard. There was Chuck Berry. There was Miles Davis. There was Sly Stone. And there was Prince.

Listen to his early albums – especially Controversy and 1999 – and you heard the sound of youth gone wild. But the means of expression wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, it was soul music retold with unharnessed drive, curiosity and sensuality. Critics immediately championed him as much for his instrumental smarts as his remarkable sense of songcraft.

With Purple Rain, Prince’s commercial profile exploded. But by 1986, when he played a surprise show at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, Purple Rain was already in the rearview mirror. Audiences expecting Let’s Go Crazy and Purple Rain’s epic title tune got monstrous jams that were, in essence, psychedelic stepchildren of the innovations the artist had cultivated only two years earlier.

Everything was reshuffled again a year later with Sign O’ The Times (which, along with 1999, stand as Prince’s finest work) for music that blended the spiritual, the social and the sexual in to a parade of multi-generational groove. There was also 1991’s pop-soul scrapbook Diamonds and Pearls, 1999’s triple disc Emancipation that broadened its soul scope into retro and futuristic terrain, 2004’s unexpectedly streamlined Musicology and 2014’s unapologetically forward thinking groovefest Art Official Age.

There were nearly 40 studio albums in all. Some were brilliant, others were comparative throwaways. But they all paled next to what Prince summoned onstage. In the four times I witnessed him in concert, the moments that were truly magical weren’t forged out of the hits but rather instances when the artist celebrated life with music that both defined and defied the times.

There was the Santana-like guitar charge of Computer Blue (from his 1984 Rupp show), the brassy soul intrigue of A Love Bizarre (from the 1986 Louisville concert), a cover of Joan Osborne’s One of Us that became a treatise of faith (from a 1997 Rupp return) and a cover of the Sam and Dave staple Soul Man with sax giant Maceo Parker (at his 2004 performance at Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena).

But as fans were absorbing their power and beauty, Prince was already at the next mile marker working on a new groove. The older songs may have indeed been signs of the times. But for Prince, time never stood still.

in performance: drivin’ n’ cryin’

drivin' n' cryin': warner hodges, tim nielsen, kevn kinney, dave v. johnson.

drivin’ n’ cryin’: warner hodges, tim nielsen, kevn kinney, dave v. Johnson.

“I kissed a lot of rings,” sang Kevn Kinney with polite resignation over a Southern soaked guitar melody so sweetly dense you could practically ring the humidity out of it. “Do I get one, too?”

Judging by the two hours the Georgia songsmith and the rest of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ threw down last night at the new Willie’s Locally Known location on Southland Drive, the ring is all his. Over 30 years after the quartet roared out of Atlanta, leaning more to alternative and punk aesthetics than to the pervading Southern rock climate of the time, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ sounded as commanding and fun as ever.

While the sometimes sleepy, sometimes shrill voiced Kinney, bassist Tim Nielsen and drummer Dave V. Johnson (all longstanding DNC members) still play with an obvious vitality, the catalyst for the music was the band’s special guest. Commandeering the lion’s share of the guitar duties last night was Warner Hodges, longtime lieutenant in Jason and the Scorchers, the band that essentially wrote the book on cowpunk before DNC even formed.

The magic Hodges brought the show was considerable. His solos were all full of rock star confidence, yet the broad smiles he flashed after them revealed an artist still with a very honest love of performing. Frankly, though, it was equally fun watching Hodges play rhythm under Kinney’s breaks, adding a chunky precision through the killer riffs on warhorse favorites like Fly Me Courageous, Build a Fire and Scarred But Smarter. But when Kinney switched to acoustic guitar during the second half of the performance, the dynamics within Hodges’ playing bloomed. What resulted was a sometimes boozy rhythmic strut that would do Keith Richards proud and rich, fluid guitar lines that brought Southern stylists like Dickey Betts to mind.

While hardly an outward rock ‘n’ roll showman, Kinney obviously reveled in the band chemistry. While the DNC lineup on hand last night often played with thunderous precision, there were also tunes loose enough for Kinney to honor his influences. The wistful Let’s Go Dancing toughed up enough for the singer to veer off into a snippet of The Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling while With the People oozed in and out of a verse from R.E.M.’s King of Birds.

The whole party ended with Kinney in the middle of the club floor singing Blues on Top of Blues, happily involved with a delightfully ragged guitar solo of his own. Playing from a very different front line, there seemed an almost childlike solace about him. In his own way, one supposes, Kinney got his ring.

in performance: gregg allman

gregg allman.

gregg allman.

The distance between a storied past and a credible, vital present has always made for hard traveling in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. The bigger and more removed the history, the tougher it becomes to have a modern day audience – even if it draws heavily from the generation that championed the artist in question in the first place – to accept any serious revision.

That was the quandary Gregg Allman was in tonight during a sold out performance at the Opera House. With the famed Allman Brothers Band (the groundbreaking Southern blues, boogie and jam brigade he helped front on and off for 45 years) now permanently defunct, the singer has turned to a revue-style ensemble to both honor his past and adjust to a more streamlined here and now. It was a daring mission that yielded only a marginal victory.

First, there was the most inspiring part of the show. At 68, with an epic bout of rock star excess behind him, Allman was in remarkably strong voice. He coated vintage tunes like the ABB’s Black Hearted Woman and his ‘80s solo hit I’m No Angel with an effortlessly bluesy drawl seemingly unblemished by age while serving ballads like Sweet Melissa with a quieter, soulful glow.

Musically, the performance took some getting use to. The ABB classics that opened and closed the show – Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ and Whipping Post – sounded curiously sanitized. It wasn’t just the more moderate pace the songs were taken at compared to their recorded versions from 1970 and 1969, respectively, or the way the tunes were tempered by a horn section. The inherent urgency within both songs, and in much of the vintage material, was just gone. In its place was a sound altogether sunnier, safer and emptier.

Unfortunately, the tunes played more faithfully to their album blueprints revealed greater creative deficiencies within the band. Dreams strutted along with the same easygoing, jazz-like groove that has long propelled the song over the decades. But as it evolved into a lengthy jam, no one seemed able to breathe any serious definition or distinction into their solos. This was especially true of guitarist Scott Sharrard, who spent much of the evening caught between imitations of Duane Allman (especially in his slide playing) and Dickey Betts, the ABB’s founding guitarists.

Everyone had chops to spare, especially the only holdover from the ABB other than brother Gregg himself, percussionist Marc Quinones. But outside of a lively take of the instrumental Hot ‘Lanta, the only tune where Allman’s organ playing didn’t fade completely into the woodwork, the ensemble found little vigor in the older material and zero invention in any of the newer arrangements. When Allman left the stage midway through the set to let the band jam on its own, the performance collapsed completely into an array of faceless riffs, solos and funk exchanges.

It should be noted, the capacity crowd enjoyed the music thoroughly, seemingly spellbound by the show’s undeniable nostalgic sway. That’s fine, as far as it went. It just seemed a shame that a still capable artist like Allman, an obviously proficient band and a truly remarkable back catalogue couldn’t have found a more knowing, intuitive or original way to make the resulting music sparkle more genuinely for a present day crowd so eager to embrace it.

merle haggard, 1937-2016

merle haggard.

merle haggard.

Here’s my favorite Merle Haggard memory. On a sweaty August evening at the 2003 Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, the veteran country music renegade polled a Cardinal Stadium crowd with this query: “How many ex-convicts do we have with us tonight?”
What was surprising wasn’t just the number of hands that shot up in the crowd, but how enthusiastic – proud, even – the respondents seemed. The Hag, without question, was in his element.

As someone who did his own share of time in the ol’ gray bar hotel, Haggard reveled in his unassuming but rebellious spirit throughout his career. Picking up on Buck Owens’ brand of California country, he all but reinvented country music convention with stories of hard won truths and music that both embraced and subverted honky tonk tradition. It was nothing to hear him sing songs of drinking and loss, yet equally uncommon to hear horns in his band for music that sometimes sounded as much like jazz as it did country.

Haggard was a frequent visitor to Rupp Arena during the ‘80s, usually in the company of fellow traditionalists George Jones and/or Conway Twitty. While he had a library of genre-defining tunes to draw from – Swinging Doors, Workin’ Man Blues and Mama Tried were always personal favorites – the one that always got me in the throat was Kern River. It was a song of death, of a raging current that swept away a loved one with unforgiving swiftness. “It’s a mean piece of water, my friend,” Haggard sang with sadness as stark and stoic as the river in question was wild. Just try finding something like that on country radio today.
Generations of country artists have claimed Haggard as an influence. Yet in an industry he saw as unduly commercialized decades ago – hence the very reactionary slant of his music – few seemed to absorb his narrative or stylistic tenacity. The only one to even approximate his sense of invention was Dwight Yoakam.

It didn’t matter if Haggard sang a forgotten celebratory hit like Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man) or if disciples like Emmylou Harris or Dave Alvin echoed his darker visions in covers of Kern River. Haggard, who died earlier today – his 79th birthday – was an original in a genre starved for true distinction. He spoke to the country poet, the working man (and woman) and, yes, even the ex-con, in us all.

in performance: tim o’brien/ron block

ron block.

ron block.

The prime appeal within a taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour is revealed when the program’s invited guests collaborate. It doesn’t happen often and when it does, the alliances tend to form quickly and briefly during encore segments.

Last night, though, bluegrass stalwarts Tim O’Brien and Ron Block, each promoting new indie solo albums, sat in with each other for a trio of tunes that capitalized on string music’s longstanding love of camaraderie. All three songs came during banjoist/guitarist Block’s segments where O’Brien, a versed multi-instrumentalist, played fiddle. The catalyst for such bonding was Block’s new all-instrumental recording Hogan’s House of Music, a work with roots in pre-bluegrass country instrumentation although it was by no means defined by that.

With guitarist Clay Hess rounding the tunes the two headliners played together as well as those executed by Block on his own, the instrumentation touched on traditional bluegrass but regularly veered into more progressive jazz-like phrasing, as in The Spotted Pony. There, O’Brien filled the fiddle seat that Block’s musical boss, Alison Krauss, occupied on the album. Sporting splendid tone, the trio took the tune at a pace far more relaxed than its more new grass-leaning predecessor Smartville, which Block and Hess played in a duo setting. A lively take of Brushy Fork at John’s Creek (done as a trio piece) and a beautifully lyrical take on Stephen Foster’s Gentle Annie (done as a guitar duet) cemented the graceful and very complete string music vocabulary of Block’s fine new record.

Only the trio encore of the Jimmy Martin staple You Don’t Know My Mind Today stepped out of the serene instrumental atmosphere for a round of traditional bluegrass with Hess on vocals.

O’Brien devoted all five of the songs from his sets, performed with partner Jan Fabricius as vocal accompanist, to music from his first solo album in four years, Pompadour. The resulting performances were streamlined to a stylistic degree when compared to the record’s considerable instrumental reach. But there was a strong emotive shift between the song’s storylines.

I Gotta Move contemplated the aftermath of divorce, Whatever Happened to Me proved a self-effacing view of aging, Pompadour’s title track reflected pure narrative whimsy and the encore of Go Down to the River revisited one of the many Mermaid Avenue works that Billy Bragg and Wilco fashioned around the words of Woody Guthrie.

But the highlight was The Water is Wise, a gorgeous tale of renewal co-penned by Sarah Jarosz that sounded like a traditional folk meditation given the rustic slant of O’Brien’s singing and the devilish, though unassuming richness of his guitar work.

in performance: mountain stage

robbie fulks. photo by andy goodwin.

robbie fulks. photo by andy Goodwin.

After nearly 33 years of broadcast history, the Mountain came to Lexington last night. The longrunning public radio live music radio show Mountain Stage, packed its bags, jumped over the state line from its West Virginia home and set up shop at the Singletary Center for the Arts with a five act bill that played out like a mini festival.

A typical Mountain Stage broadcast runs two hours. Last night’s presentation ran just shy of three with minimal downtime between acts and no intermission. Since host Larry Groce served strictly as an emcee, eschewing interview segments, the program focused almost exclusively on performances with each artist playing five tunes. Sarah Jarosz, the show’s de facto headliner, was allowed six.

Excluding between-set songs by Mountain Stage band singer Julie Adams and pianist Bob Thompson, here was what transpired, in order of appearance.

+ Robbie Fulks: After giving quick acknowledgements his numerous Lexington appearances at Lynagh’s Music Club and The Dame over the past 20 years, the Chicago song stylist juggled tales of despair, humor and delirious points in between, highlighted by the whimsical yet heartwarming Aunt Peg’s New Old Man. Backed by an authoritative band that leaned to traditional country, Fulks topped off his set with vocalwork that has never sounded clearer or more commanding.

+ Over the Rhine: Rounded out to a trio with the addition of guitarist Brad Meinerding, the Ohio husband-and-wife duo of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist offered a typically moving set of moody folk atmospherics. The songs were fine, especially wary narratives like Suitcase, I’d Want You and a delicate makeover of The Band’s It Makes No Difference. But the distinction this time was the group’s spot-on three-part harmonies. While Meinerding was an engaging instrumentalist, he also stands as one of the finer vocal foils to join the Over the Rhine ranks in many years.

+ Steve Forbert: After nearly four decades of making records, Forbert remains the disheveled but definitive folkie. Performing solo, he sang twisted reveries like Compromsied, Drink Red Wine and especially Complications like he was arguing with a friend and welcoming all ensuing conflicts. The resulting music, unrefined as it purposely was, still sounded soulful and solemn.

+ The Black Lillies: The only disappointment of the bunch. The Knoxville band had ample instrumental prowess, especially in the guitar department. But mainstay singers Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady, together the generally unremarkable Americana/pop tradeoffs within songs like Hard to Please and Desire, never fully caught fire.

+ Sarah Jarosz: The highlight of the night, Jarosz devoted her entire six-song solo set to new music from her forthcoming Undercurrents album (due out in June). After reflecting on her afternoon brunch at The Local Taco (“any day that includes tacos is a good day”), she settled into the often unsettled waters of her new songs. Within works like Early Morning Light and House of Mercy were largely emancipating sagas sung with an unsentimental exactness. Songs like the more vulnerable Everything You Hide and the more distantly endearing Jacqueline weren’t as stormy but reflected just as much emotive grace and detail. A simple, direct and often spellbinding set.

In what has long been a tradition for Mountain Stage, the program concluded with Groce leading everyone through an ensemble finale number – in this case, a cover of Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine. Owing more to the Kentucky Headhunters hit version from the late ‘80s rather than the Bill Monroe original, it was impressive more for Groce’s traffic cop conduction of the nearly 20 players assembled onstage than as actual cohesive performance.

sarah jarosz rides with the currents

sarah jarosz. photo by scott simontacchi.

sarah jarosz. photo by scott simontacchi.

On the second song of her forthcoming album, Sarah Jarosz sings with almost mystical intrigue. That the tune, Green Lights, is wrapped discreetly in reverb and has its delicate folk fabric colored modestly by electric guitar presents a paradox. In terms of storyline, it is remarkably grounded – romantic, but not for an instant sentimental. Yet the music all but leaves the earth to embrace a ghostly ambience that presents a lean but very atmospheric contrast to the rest of the spare acoustic framework to the album, which is aptly titled Undercurrent.

To those that have followed Jarosz’s music through her three previous albums (a remarkable discography considering she is only 24), Undercurrent will seem a logical progression in the ascent of one of the most heralded young songsmiths of the past decade. But for Jarosz, a Texas native who recently graduated with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music and subsequently established a new home base in New York City, Undercurrent is very much an emancipation.

“The headspace for this record was just being here in the city, living here for the first time and having, actually, a lot of solitary time,” said Jarosz, one of the artists performing at Sunday’s live broadcast of Mountain Stage from the Singletary Center for the Arts. “For the first time, I’ve lived by myself here. Really, in a way, this feels like a first album in a sense in that it was the first time I had all my time dedicated to focusing on writing and recording the record, whereas before it was running between classes and kind of fitting it in somehow. I felt more focused on it this time than I think I ever have before.

“This was also the first time that I really thought about the songwriting in a way that was more like a craft, whereas before it was kind of, ‘Okay, whenever the inspiration comes and whenever I have the time to kind of season it.’ This time around, I actually had the time to work at it every day. I feel that comes through on the record. I live on the Upper West Side and spend a lot of time walking around the Central Park reservoir. That really influenced a lot of the imagery on the album.”

Before New England and before New York, there was, for Jarosz, Texas – specifically the Hill Country near the center of the state and the neighboring music metropolis of Austin. She was versed enough on mandolin, clawhammer banjo and guitar to play her first bluegrass festival by age 11 and was signed to the established Americana label Sugar Hill to record her debut album at 16.

“I was talking with (Kentucky born songwriter and instrumentalist) Darrell Scott, who really believes the landscape of where someone grows up ultimately affects the music that they make and shapes them as a musician. I totally believe that in terms of growing up in the Texas Hill Country. It was kind of the rawness of that landscape, of Texas in general. It’s flat but it’s also hilly and I totally think that influenced that kind of music, that acoustic kind of raw music that I was drawn to, especially early on. I lived it every Friday night going to a weekly bluegrass jam. That totally shaped me.

“Last week, I was performing at (the renown Austin music festival) South by Southwest. It’s always good for me to go back to Texas and be reminded about how much I was influenced by that scene down there. It was kind of full circle for me because it was the first time that I performed many of these songs from the new record. It’s good to be reminded how that region is always going to be a part of me and my identity.”

 

Mountain Stage with Sarah Jarosz, The Black Lillies, Steve Forbert, Over the Rhine and Robbie Fulks. 7 p.m. April 3 at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.

Tickets: $25 advance, $30 day of show. Call 859-257-4929 or go to etix.com.

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