Americana and bluegrass singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz is a Central Texas hero, though she lives in New York now. Her return to Austin for South by Southwest at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary on Thursday marked one of those perfect artist/venue matchups. (See also: Aoife O’Donovan earlier in the evening, as the Statesman’s Peter Blackstock noted. O’Donovan returned to help out Jarosz during the latter’s show.)
Grammy-nominated Jarosz is a string instrument prodigy, a heart-rending writer and the owner of a clarifying, powerful voice. Her set was poised and flawless, but two songs in particular stood out, especially as SXSW raged outside the church.
1. “Build Me Up From Bones,” the title track of her 2014 album, aches with absolute devotion (“Play it sweet and low/We’ve got nowhere to go/I am yours and you’re the love I know”). Though the violin and cello from the album cut were missed, Jarosz performed something holy.
2. Jarosz told the sanctuary that she was performing songs from her upcoming album, “Undercurrent,” for the first time Thursday night. The standout among the new material was “Jacqueline,” named after the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in New York where the singer does her thinking. It’s a quietly crushing song of ghosts and loneliness that evokes Sufjan Stevens more than a little. Jarosz’s conjuring of Jackie O’s phantom to keep her company, still in her pillbox and pink, haunted the high ceilings.