On her latest CD 25 Trips, former mandolin prodigy turned multi-talented performer Sierra Hull delivers a distinct musical statement that explores the broad range of musical options an artist can build starting from a base in undiluted bluegrass. As many of her contemporaries like Sarah Jarosz, Chris Thile, Molly Tuttle, and Billy Strings have done, Hull embarked on a solo career with a musical vision that ranges far from her bluegrass upbringing, but never quite abandons her roots. New chord changes, rhythmic patterns, song topics and instrumentation make 25 Trips a highly personal statement from this gifted musician who wrote or co-wrote all 13 tunes.
For the bluegrass-minded, “How Long,” a song of longing and self-determination, starts with a stately tempo backed by traditional bluegrass instrumentation before bursting into a full-on bluegrass rave-up powered by the likes of Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Viktor Krauss, and Ronnie Bowman, and of course Hull’s quicksilver mandolin runs. The catchy “Middle Of The Woods” shows her in a decidedly modern bluegrass mode, distinctly her own, but showing influences from bands like the Punch Brothers and Infamous Stringdusters on a tune that could propel her to cross-boundary success. On the title-track, Hull takes a deeply introspective look on her own life and growth musically and personally, and the true-rocking “Poison” is a searing bluegrass take on the toll alcohol and drugs can take on her generation.
One point that must be made here is how Hull, whose voice often sounded a bit thin and immature on early records, now sings with the power and nuance of a seasoned pro. Instrumentally, this remarkably gifted musician moves away from a primary focus on her mandolin to highlight her gorgeous guitar playing, as well as her skills on tenor guitar, mandola, and more.
At 25, Sierra has already had a career that pros twice her age would envy. On 25 Trips, this rising musician pushes her music into many deeply personal and lyrical places. Fans of straight-from-the-holler bluegrass might not find much here to enjoy, but that’s their loss. Hull, like many musicians of her generation has crafted a musically complex, lyrically profound record that shows it’s possible to both revere pure bluegrass while expressing her big tent approach to infusing her music with the riches of her own imagination. (www.rounder.com)DJM
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