Sarah Jarosz has spent the four years since her last solo album nurturing I’m With Her, the group everyone from David Crosby to Chris Thile has said is the best band on the planet right now.
So to say the pressure was on might be a bit of an understatement. But the 29-year-old Jarosz and producer John Leventhal delivered in a big way with World on the Ground, a 10-song, 35-minute collection that adds a couple of stories – literal and figurative – to Jarosz’s Americana foundation.
These are songs about “Eve,” who wants to ensure the world doesn’t spoil her inner goodness; “Johnny,” who just needs a bit of luck, love and light; and “Maggie” whose Ford Escape will hopefully live up to its name. Jarosz’s subjects – and sometimes Jarosz herself – drink cold coffee and wine; they want to stay and they want to leave; and they wonder why they left or why they stayed.
“In the wake of the coming hour/the midnight flood and the meteor shower/I’m gonna run while I still have time/drink a glass of the finest wine/let me toast the end of it all/I’ll need a lift before the fall/before the flames consume the walls/I’ll be gone,” she sings on “I’ll Be Gone,” an uptempo quasi-rocker with a Jerry Garcia-esque electric guitar solo.
Recording mostly on their own, Jarosz and Leventhal employ a rhythm section, strings (on the majestic “What Do I Do”), Dobro, mandolin, piano, fiddle, cello and more to color in the spaces between the songwriter’s stories of wanderlust and cemented feet.
The album – perhaps the best of 2020 thus far – closes with a cover of Fred Cockerham’s “Little Satchel.” The sparsest cut, it focuses on Jarosz’s clawhammer banjo and vocals, a little reminder of where she came from and how far she’s traveled.