If you're not yet used to seeing self-assured, musically sophisticated (and ridiculously talented) roots-music artists taking command of stages and studios before they're out of their teens, Sarah Jarosz is ready to move you along. A freshly minted graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, Jarosz, 22, released her third album for Sugar Hill, Build Me up From Bones, on Sept. 24. She hits the 3rd & Lindsley stage on Sunday, just a few days into a tour that will keep her and her trio of several years on the road until Thanksgiving. Working once again with acclaimed engineer and co-producer Gary Paczosa, Jarosz presents a set that's emblematic in some ways of the experiences of her generation of roots musicians, but also stands as one that shows an artistry that's unattached to any particular age group.
Standard-issue stories have Jarosz starting out as a young bluegrass phenom, but that's not quite right.
"My music experience in Texas was pretty much going to this bluegrass jam every night, which was fantastic, but it was a lot of older people," Jarosz says, almost apologetically. "And they were the first ones to teach me, but when I was 11, I started going to these music camps, up in Colorado, out in California, places like that. And I realized there were people who were super into acoustic and bluegrass music, but they weren't afraid to branch out, either. I think that had a lot to do with the kind of music that I ended up writing."
It was camp friendships that drew her toward Boston, but a growing interest in branching out took her to the New England Conservatory while other pals headed for Berklee. After four years, Jarosz emerged with a degree in contemporary improvisation and an approach to writing and performing not so much shaped as influenced by the program — not to mention the new album, which for the first time is built largely around her interaction with roadmates Alex Hargreaves (violin) and Nathaniel Smith (cello).
"I feel like this record and the writing on it are most influenced by my time at NEC, because it really did take four years for the stuff that I was learning to really start sinking in," Jarosz says with a laugh. "But for most of the songs, I did kind of have the trio setting in mind when I wrote them, because I've been playing with those guys the last three years, and I think that I could tell that that was going to be the thing that made this record different from the last two. And it really felt like I was developing my own sound, incorporating those three instruments."
That sound — and this is where the dual nature of the album's music becomes clearest — is an amalgam, at once casual and calculated, of a broad array of influences, from Indian drumming to old-time fiddle tunes, morose ballads, indie-rock flourishes and much more. It's meticulous in its attention to detail, and Jarosz and her partners clearly understand that for every old-school folk musician who favored raw, untutored expression, there were a dozen who favored unending practice and refinement. But it also sounds relaxed, almost effortless, as if the musicians are so sure of their knowledge of what can sound right in this musically fluid environment that they simply don't worry about it at all.
"As hard as it was to record this album in the last semester of college," Jarosz notes, "now it's great, because it's finished, and I can just hit the road and start working. This is the first full-length tour that I've ever done. With that being said, summers in college were always busy, so this summer was nice, because I didn't have to tour as much right out of school.
"Because I have the fall," Jarosz adds. "And the rest of my life."