may 2008

Old Soul In A Maiden’s Body

By David McGee


Sierra Hull

The first we hear from 16-year-old Sierra Hull on her debut album is a quick pair of delicate, descending mandolin lines that run back up the neck before she enters asserting in a high, sweet, crystalline voice, “No one else will ever know/This is how these passions always grow…” in the Kevin McClung-penned title song. All of this is pure Sierra—the seamless, confident instrumental work, the uncommonly expressive voice of tender years suggesting a well of complex feelings about to overflow in an ache of classic dimensions. Yes, she sounds for all the world like the young Alison Krauss, whose presence is felt throughout the album in style, in temperament (she chose some of the songs) and in sound—its impeccably austere production was steered by Union Station’s banjo master Ron Block, and fellow AKUS members Dan Tyminski (guitar, baritone vocal) and Jerry Douglas (dobro) join an impressive band lineup that is rounded out by Barry Bales, Dennis Crouch and Jason Moore on bass, Clay Hess and Tony Rice on guitar, with dramatic cameos on fiddle by Mountain Heart’s Jim Van Cleve (whose quick-pulsed instrumental “Smashville” affords Hull an opportunity to fashion a fleet-fingered opening solo run of a minute’s duration to set the stage for equally voluble retorts by Block, Van Cleve and Hess) and the ever-towering figure of Stuart Duncan, who hits a high water even for him with an exquisitely crafted solo rising elegantly up out of the beautiful love song “Only My Heart” that lifts the whole endeavor onto a plane where feeling runs so deep it obviates the need for words. But Krauss is only a touchstone—Sierra Hull stands on her own gifted, original merits from first cut to last, serving notice of being here for the long haul and every bit as capable as Krauss has been of respecting tradition while expanding the bluegrass lexicon. With Block’s assured guidance, Secrets is the ideal framework for Hull’s audacious artistry, which extends across the board to embrace vocalizing and picking of the first order as well as assured songwriting, as evidenced by the wistful remembrance of wanderlust expressed in the trundling rhythm of the rail recalled in “Two Winding Rails” (co-written with her father) and more profoundly in her own surging, minor key lament of unrequited love, “Pretend,” in which she sounds preternaturally scarred. She also takes time to have some bouncy good fun with a bluegrass rendering of one of Connie Francis’s great hits, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” and closes on a contemplative statement of abiding faith, “Trust and Obey,” singing in a voice imbued with the serenity and certainty of a true believer, which she is. Getting religion of a different nature ensues from opening the heart and the mind to the gospel of an old soul in a maiden’s body. Sierra Hull is the real deal many times over.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024