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Sierra Hull
Secrets

Review By Steven Stone
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  No American musical style is as intergenerational as Bluegrass. At festival jams you regularly find ten-year-olds playing with eighty-year-olds. Sixteen-year-old Sierra Hull is a product of this tradition. By the ripe old age of eight Hull was already making the rounds in advanced picking circles at festivals. She debuted on the Grand Ol Opry at eleven, invited onstage by Alison Krauss. Since then she's won numerous big-league mandolin competitions and even hosts her own festival in Byrdsville, Tennessee. Pretty good for someone who doesn't even have her driver's license.

Hull's reputation is based largely on her superb mandolin playing, which is more than amply documented on Secrets, but her lead vocals steal the show. With a clear soprano unfettered by extraneous vocal affectations Hull soars above the music like a hawk in a friendly headwind. Whether it's an old classic such as "Everybody is Somebody's Fool," or an original song like "Pretend," Hull delivers direct and forceful vocal interpretations. Many listeners will immediately note the stylistic similarities between Hull and her mentor, Alison Krauss. But Hull is far more than merely a Krauss clone. Hull's music displays less pop prettifying. More of the emphasis is on hot picking and ensemble vocals than purely beautiful sound.

Co-produced by Hull and Union Station's Ron Block, the band personnel on Secrets come from the top echelons of bluegrass royalty. Jerry Douglas plays dobro while Dan Tyminski and Clay Hess share guitar duties. Jim Van Cleve and Stuart Duncan handle fiddle parts as Block contributes banjo and baritone vocals. Bass parts are divided between Barry Bales and Dennis Crouch. Naturally Hull takes all the lead vocals and mandolin solos. And what mandolin solos they are. In the words of mandolin great Adam Steffey, "Her approach to building solos and working in all situations…is so far beyond her years that I am constantly amazed." It's hard not to draw parallels to another mandolin wunderkind – Chris Thile. By age sixteen Thile had already veered away from straight bluegrass toward acoustic jazz and classical compositions. It will be interesting to see where Hull goes, but while we wait Secrets marks an auspicious beginning for a young woman who is already a bluegrass star.

 

 

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