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Monday, May 29, 2017

Undercurrent

The Grammy for Best Folk Album went to Sarah Jarosz for her disc, Undercurrent. I must admit that the first time through it I was pondering just how the Grammys decide what goes in what category, as they seem to be divided into very small and delicate niches.

Undercurrent didn't immediately strike me as "folk" music, whatever that means. To me, it's Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, early Bob Dylan, or Joan Baez, with roots in Appalachian music. There's little of that here. But I realize folk has expanded to include artists like Shawn Colvin, who Jarosz sounds a bit like. She writes her own material, so I guess this is more contemporary folk, rather than traditional.

That being said, Undercurrent sounds pretty, but I didn't find it particularly intense. The melodies are nice, the vocals are beautiful, the lyrics are somewhat routine. I didn't want to take out of the CD player and hurl it out the window, but I have to believe that there was music out there was more "folky" than this.

The songs that most reminded me of traditional folk are "Lost Dog," which includes a banjo and has lyrics about a dog burying bones in the backyard that gives it an edge, and "House of Mercy," which features a mandolin and also has a bit of an edge;

"Walls rattle like a diesel freighter
Blood races like a wave
This house wasn't made for strangers
But you come knockin' anyway."

"House of Mercy" also won a Grammy for Jarosz in the Best American Roots Song category.

The most enigmatic song is the last one, "Jacqueline," which is clearly about Jackie Kennedy:

"Jacqueline, I see you there
In your pillbox hat and your
Bright pink dress
Won't you sit and keep me company?"

I'm not sure what the song is about, as it uses the iconography of Mrs. Kennedy but for what? It seems as if the singer is lonely and wants her company, but I didn't get the song completely.

To sum up, I wouldn't call Undercurrent down and dirty folk music, but it's nice and unobjectionable. I've got to just get over the whole category thing.

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