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The Four Corners Folk Festival is just two weeks away. This year’s 19th annual event will be held Aug. 29-31 and features three days of camping, pickin’ and listening to live sets from some of today’s top folk, Americana and bluegrass musicians. At last count, there are attendees coming from 20 states and two countries.
This year’s fabulous musical lineup includes Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, Elephant Revival, The Oh Hellos, Baskery, Sunliner, Shook Twins, Paper Bird, Caravan of Thieves, Heather Maloney/Darlingside, Haas Kowert Tice, Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys, Marley’s Ghost, Beth Wood, Steep Ravine and this week’s featured artists, Baskery and Sarah Jarosz.
No matter where they go in the world, people tell the sisters of Baskery that they’ve never heard or seen anything like them; that they have a completely unique sound and perform with what seems to be an inexhaustible energy. That’s Baskery’s aim: to never stop surprising. Baskery is a band built on what three people can do together. The music is not to be confused with country or bluegrass just because the instrumentation involves a double bass, a six-string banjo and an acoustic guitar.
The trio is not bound to any genre — this is what makes Baskery a little hard to figure out just by listening to their albums. But, it is all there in the live act, and it is real. The three sisters can’t recall when or why they started playing; the music has always just been there.
“Performing live has become the most natural thing to us,” they say. That’s where the high energy level on stage hails from, a pure and reckless love of the art of performing music.
In their late teens, the sisters joined forces with their dad, who had been a one-man band as long as the girls could recall, playing old blues and country tunes for a living. They were introduced to the music business in a quite unglamorous way: “We played cover songs in pubs and bars, still we never played songs we didn’t like just to please the crowd.”
This foundation of classic roots music and Americana settled in their hearts, but also awoke the urge of breaking the rules of traditional music.
Baskery is all about turning the music on its head, blending the straightforwardness of punk with the subtlety of singer/songwriting. The sisters have successfully toured all over the world, performing at festivals such as Glastonbury, Woodford, SXSW, Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, Calgary Folk, California World Fest, Lowlands, Azkena Rock, Storsjöyran, Bergen Fest, Toender Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Four Corners Folk Festival, Sisters Folk Festival and many more.
The three sisters of Baskery will play on the main stage on Saturday, Aug. 30, at 6:30 p.m.
Since signing to Sugar Hill Records at age 16, Sarah Jarosz has barely stopped to catch her breath, even as she leaves audiences, and critics alike, breathless. Rolling Stone has compared her to Gillian Welch; Mojo labeled her a “newgrass prodigy” for her skills on banjo, guitar and mandolin; and the normally reserved New York Times hailed her as “one of acoustic music’s finest talents,” with songwriting chops to match her instrumental prowess.
Exciting as that all may sound, that was before. For with her new album, “Build Me Up From Bones,” Sarah Jarosz, now 22, has graduated in every sense of the word. The album came to fruition as she finished college at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and “Bones” incorporates the many lessons she learned there as she delved into other artistic realms.
Ask the Austin, Texas, native how she feels about the disc, and her reply is decisive: “It’s the truest representation of my music at this point. I wanted to create a rollercoaster of different sounds, emotions and feelings, and not one even line. It has rocking numbers, and it also features the trio I play with — it incorporates those guys more. It feels true to me: unique and new.”
She adds, “I feel like I’ve grown as a person, especially in these last few years. I latched onto music as a child and it became my main way of expressing myself. But, through college, I got into other creative outlets: art, painting and poetry. It helped me to come back to music in a deeper way, to follow deeper trails and meanings and feelings.”
That depth manifests itself from start to finish on this 11-song record, as Jarosz creates sonic atmospheres that shimmer with equal parts acoustic majesty and electrifying mystery. “Mile on the Moon” ambles along with a familiar, folky stride. Yet the melody and slipstream musical track suggest somewhere far away and beyond, a translucent vision where ardor blooms in nocturnal hues.
Did lunar forces tug at Sarah’s songwriting tides? As she puts it, “I never go into a record thinking I want a recurring theme throughout. But after the fact — and I certainly didn’t plan this — there are four songs that mention the moon in some way. For me, songwriting is an ever changing nature; it’s always fresh, and the moon is sort of like that: always changing, always pulling.”
That the song also takes on love as a subject matter shows Jarosz growing, enough so that she tackles this oldest of topics in surprising new ways.
“I feel like my favorite songwriters leave enough things in the song to keep you digging,” she says. “The goal is to write songs that people will make personal to themselves — even if they may be very personal to me.”
That said, it’s a neat trick that Jarosz covers songs by two artists with fiercely loyal followings, and makes them all her own. Her version of harpist Joanna Newsom’s song, “The Book of Right-On,” stays true to the original’s freak folk funkiness, but Jarosz goes a step further by giving the song a winsome honey-gilded vocal to pine for. And, as for taking on Bob Dylan — which she did on her 2011 disc “Follow Me Down” — Jarosz didn’t expect she’d do it again. But a backstage jam session with cellist Nathaniel Smith (part of the trio behind the new album, along with fiddler Alex Hargreaves) proved, indeed, “A Simple Twist of Fate.”
“We just kind of played that song for ourselves, not even thinking we were going to work it up, and it happened so naturally — we said, ‘Man, that felt good,’” Jarosz says. “Live, it’s gotten a very good response.”
Jarosz finds it a big plus that she’s yielded an album that puts the focus on her and her trio. While much was made of the guest stars eager to join her on past albums, Jarosz found herself eager to fly on the strength of her new material, and capture a performance-friendly vibe as much as possible. More songs on “Build Me Up From Bones” were cut live than on any of her past studio efforts.
“A lot of it feels like it will translate well into the trio setting,” she says, “and it’s always fun to see these songs take on their own life on the stage; you don’t have to hear it live the same way as on the record.”
With this new album, Jarosz speaks of an invisible line where, after she nurtures a song long enough, it now becomes something organic she carries with her: “I’ll play something, leave it alone, come back to it, and play it and play it and play it. The songs almost need to settle within me before I can play them for anybody.”
In the conservatory setting of her final college days, she assailed the dual challenge of crafting new songs and cramming for exams. Instead of bowing to the pressure, she flowed with it, harnessed it, and passed with flying colors … leading a musical graduation day of a distinct and rare kind.
“There were days where I thought, ‘I really need to get this homework assignment done, and I need to get this song written,’” she says, laughing. “But in the end it was great, because it prodded me to go forward. So here I am, at the end of school, and I’m finishing up this album, and the timing couldn’t be better. It’s like turning the page.”
Sarah Jarosz returns to play the Four Corners main stage on Sunday, Aug. 31, at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets and information about this year’s Four Corners Folk Festival can be found online at www.folkwest.com or by calling (877) 472-4672.
Band bio information provided by Sarah Jarosz and Baskery.