One Track Mind: Sarah Jarosz, "The Tourist" (2011)

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by Tom Johnson

Do we need another Radiohead cover? Hasn’t everything been said about Radiohead by artists from every corner of the music world?

From Christopher O’Riley’s albums of sleepy piano solos to premiere jazz pianist Brad Mehldau’s definitive readings and the Bad Plus’ rave-up of “Karma Police,” or even Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid’s wild antics shown on “National Anthem,” it kind of seems like maybe we’ve gotten enough new blood injected into Radiohead to see how important and flexible their music is.

So, as much as I enjoy a good Radiohead cover, I had to kind of roll my eyes a little bit when I read about a bluegrass take on “The Tourist,” from 1997’s career defining OK Computer. And then I listened to it … and fell in love.

It’s Jarosz’s breathy, sultry voice, much more mature than her mere 20 years age; it changes everything. Where Thom Yorke’s original vocal reflected the cold distance of the lyrics — the frustration of living life too quickly to notice what’s around us — Jarosz seems to flip it around, sounding as if she is the one telling someone “idiot, slow down …” rather than the one being told. Her take, steeped in mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and acoustic guitar, is languid and luxurious.

Don’t let “The Tourist” be your only exposure to Sarah Jarosz: Follow Me Down is as equally compelling and beautiful as this single song.

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