Reviewed by Mae Hunt
Sarah Jarosz’s fifth album, World on the Ground, is bursting with contemporary folk and progressive country tracks. Created in collaboration with musician and producer John Leventha, the lyrics share reflections on Jarosz’s hometown of Wimberley, Texas. Wimberley, a small town with a population of only 2,626, inspires a string of reflective songs that show off Jarosz’s lyrical and vocal skills. Her voice, never overpowered by the instrumentals, carries each song while banjos, mandolins, and guitars dance in the background creating an intimate listening experience.
The highly personal album captures Jarosz’s storytelling abilities. Although I have never been to Wimberley myself, I can picture the small town from the vivid descriptions embedded into each track. The song’s opening track, Eve, begins: “A long, long time ago, in a little Texas town…” and describes “the wilderness and the cypress trees, and the night birds all around” that litter the landscape. Similarly, in Hometown, Jarosz depicts the “cedars and the oaks” and the “light above the hills” in a way that transports listeners to the quaint town.
In addition to the scenery, some tracks call out and describe various small town characters. In Johnny, Jarosz’s honeyed voice describes a local boy’s return to Wimberly as she sadly wonders: “How could a boy from a little bay town grow up to be a man, fly the whole world round, then end up back on the same damn ground he started.” In this track and in many others, subtle key changes and silky vocals draw the listener in as Jarosz wrestles with a contradicting desire to both stay and leave her hometown.
Maggie depicts a girl who yearns to escape the small town, perhaps emulating Jarosz’s eventual relocation to New York City where she now resides. Maggie hopes to escape the “football games” and “processed food” of the small town by driving “across the desert, in a blue ford escape.” The unique melody and guitar work in combination with Jarosz’s soft voice create a feeling of nostalgia that coincides with the departure of her beloved town.
The album’s finale, Little Satchel, speaks to the adventures that lay ahead. This bluegrass song is bursting with banjo strumming while Jarozs’s strong southern accent makes an appearance. This song depicts falling in love and dreaming of a full life beyond the little town, perhaps in California or Louisiana.
Despite a clear yearning to move on from her small town, a deep love for Wimberley is consistent throughout the album. This love is particularly strong in Orange and Blue when she says: “I think I found it now, and nothing else will do. A heart that burns so true, burning orange and blue.” Regardless of where life takes her, she will always find comfort for the place where she grew up. I don’t know about you all, but that sentiment speaks to me!
Buy World on the Ground here.
Reviewed by Mae Hunt
Lilly Hiatt’s Walking Proof is a classic country album with hints of electronic pop and waves of indie rock that distinguish it as one-of-a-kind. This Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s music strikes me as classic yet quirky, traditional yet unique. How is it possible to balance such extremities? Listen to the album here and see for yourself.
Abundant with vivid imagery, the album for some may serve simply as a dream-like escape from reality. However, while this Rolling Stones article states that Walking Proof is neither autobiographical nor social commentary, I believe there are both meaningful and intentional themes strung throughout Hiatt’s 11 tracks. The songs include themes of love, transition, and adulthood that I believe serve simultaneously as light, leisurely tunes and inspirational, sincere reflections.
I love the way the album begins, with a declaration of adoration for Hiatt’s younger sister, Rae. If you have sisters yourself, this song will hit home. In a sweet and twangy voice, Hiatt depicts the inexplicable connection between sisters: “Nobody gets it like you do Rae, I put so much on you Rae, ‘Cause nobody gets it like you do.” That platonic love is echoed in Brightest Star, which is an uplifting melody directed at someone overcoming innocent drama, such as boys and school. In this catchy and optimistic song, Hiatt writes: “The brightest star in my whole sky is you.”
In contrast to this platonic love, the album has many tracks that portray fleeting romances. P-Town, for example, shares the slightly humorous story of a romantic getaway gone wrong. Little Believer, one of the most rock-and-roll tracks on the album, is a classic tale of unrequited love: “I haven’t been there much for you, at least not how I’ve wanted to.”
Alright, enough about love. Despite the Rolling Stones article’s statement that the album is not social commentary, there are subtle messages about the world in which we live. For example, Candy Lunch begs the question, “Why does every boy I meet try to tell me how to live or what to eat?” Some Kind of Drug makes an explicit reference to both Nashville’s gentrification and homelessness problem, stating: “Who are these strangers in my town that just want to tear everything down? And I know it’s everybody’s dream but I swear to god I can’t hear a heartbeat.” While I don’t think the album is littered with social commentary, it is undoubtedly there, primarily speaking to Hiatt’s experience as a female artist and long-time Nashville resident.
Finally, there are moments of empowerment and self-love that bring the album home. Never Play Guitar is essentially a love song written for her guitar. In this soft rock song, Hiatt implies that men rarely understand her need for a room of her own to play guitar. The final song, Scream, depicts a woman moving on from a man who made her give up parts of herself. “I played my guitar softly for you” she declares in one of my favorite lines of the album. At the end, she states, “I’m moving on for nobody but myself.”
Interestingly, the almost-eerie nature of the final song is completely different from the upbeat bops of other tracks, perhaps implying some uncertainty in taking life’s next steps. Regardless of whether you are seeking a catchy escape-from-reality, melodious reflections on life, or something in between, Hiatt’s album is definitely worth the listen.