NEW YORK — January 28, 2022 — While it may be her first full-length album, Heather Sarona assembled an impressive team for Head Above Water, out today. Produced by Sarona and Jerry Brown, the album features Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange, Watchhouse), Libby Rodenbough (Mipso), Sarah McCombie (Chatham Rabbits) and Lizzy Ross (Violet Bell) on harmonies, as well as Hank Smith on banjo, Marcel Ardans on guitar, Alex Bingham on bass, and Jason Cecil on percussion.
Sarona, a North Carolina-based folk singer-songwriter, grew up in a small town in the Uwharrie Mountains where the tradition of folk music and bluegrass was an intrinsic part of the culture. At age 14 she found her dad’s old guitar in the attic and felt an immediate kinship, later picking up banjo and ukulele while developing her own unique way of playing guitar with metal finger picks, often associated with the banjo, turning them around backwards so she can execute intricate fingerpicking and solid percussive strumming simultaneously.
“This album covers a lot of ground. So what connects the songs? I think they’re all about love in some way, though most are not ‘love songs’; nor is it always obvious how love plays into their meanings,” Sarona says. “These songs are about losing love, healing from love, hoping for love, finding love, and then navigating love as it grows and ages and is tested.”
“I’ll Be Lost,” which Wide Open Country called “stunning,” was picked as part of IBMA’s 2021 Songwriter Showcase, and features Sarah McCombie (Chatham Rabbits) as well as Libby Rodenbough (Mipso). Sarona wrote the song after going on a trip to the beach with her kids while her husband stayed home to work, realizing she didn’t quite know where to sleep in a big, empty bed. “Window To Break” offers a look at vulnerability, and what it means to offer that vulnerability to another person, using a glass shattering metaphor — something Sarona has used differently in several previous songs — to represent vulnerability. “For Me,” describes the emotions Sarona felt when she first met her husband, right after the end of a very long relationship.
While Head Above Water is Sarona’s first full-length album, it follows the release of her 2017 EP, Waltz, which melds acoustic guitar, banjo and ukulele to create warm, folk-inspired songs, unified by a 3/4 time signature. Her songs, infused with a lifelong love of music and a years-long dedication to her playing, often have a folksy twist, inspired by bluegrass musicians like her grandfather, who taught her how to play her first song on guitar and how to pick a banjo.
Sarona was selected by the International Bluegrass Music Association as a showcase songwriter for the 2021 and 2020 World of Bluegrass Music Festival. Her songwriting has been recognized in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, the Don Gibson Singer-Songwriter Symposium, the Backwoods Beat Music Festival Songwriting Contest, and the WHIW Songwriting Contest.
“The human experience is just so universal once you start looking at our emotions and love and relationships – those are the things I write about,” Sarona says. “That’s why I want people to hear these songs. I want to let the way that I have processed these big feelings, big decisions and big changes to help someone else get through those same things they’re probably experiencing, too.”