Taking Bluegrass Into A Semi-Classical Sphere.
Sierra Hull is one of those names that gets whispered alongside a ‘knowing look’ in certain circles these days; which is no surprise when you see who appears alongside the young singer-songwriter on her second album.
First and foremost Sierra Hull is recognised as an amazing mandolin player; and boy is that evident on the intro to Stranded which opens this disc; not a song as I understand as Sierra only occasionally whispers “Dear 22, I’m stranded here” a couple of times over her divine mandolin and possibly a bowed Double bass to create a hypnotic piece of music.
The instrumentation and heritage alludes to this being a Bluegrass album; but the construction of songs like Fallen Man and Queen of Hearts/Royal Tea far exceed the limitations of that particular genre; as do others too.
There is a slight hint of the young Nanci Griffith on a couple of songs; most noticeably the ethereal Birthday which has an almost Southern Gothic feel to it and the harmonies with Abigail Washburn will send a shiver down your spine the first time you hear it.
Bela Fleck’s production must be applauded too, as he somehow manages to give very limited instrumentation (a mandolin and dbl. bass) a very ‘big’ sound; which is why I draw a comparison with chamber music, but never ever does it ever compromise Sierra Hull’s amazing voice.
Much like the banjo I can find the mandolin a tiresome instrument at times; normally when played at 100 mph to show how ‘brilliant or dexterous’ the player is; but in Sierra Hull’s hands it becomes a thing of rare beauty; never more so than on the darkly Celtic sounding Wings Of The Dawn.
When I first heard the wonderful title track Weighted Mind the name Alison Krauss instantly sprung to mind; then I read the notes on the album sleeve and there was Alison’s name on harmonies! All I can say is, while Ms Krauss adds some substance to the song; it would be just as good without her inclusion, which is a phrase I never ever expected to write.
It’s fair to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised beyond belief by this album; which should make choosing a favourite song difficult; but it isn’t; as the finale Black River is quite the epic; showcasing Sierra’s clever, intricate and almost poetic style of songwriting with her clever, intricate and poetic mandolin playing, with the added bonus of a choir made up from Abigail Washburn, Alison Krauss, Rhiannon Giddons and Bela Fleck on harmony vocals; and when Sierra Hull’s beautifully crystal clear voice filtered from the speakers on a warm Summers evening I was instantly transported into some kind of musical Heaven.
As I implied at the start, you have to be a very special talent indeed to attract Abigail Washburn, Alison Krauss, Rhiannon Giddons and Bela Fleck, who also produced the album to aid and abet you so early in your career and Sierra Hull most certainly is a very special talent indeed.
Released Jan 20 2016