Sierra Hull – Daybreak
2011, Rounder Records
To say that 19-year old singer/songwriter/mandolin player Sierra Hull is a phenom might be an underestimation. Today she releases her third full-length album, Daybreak, to the sort of breathless anticipation that marks the release of a superstar. Hull’s star has certainly risen quickly in the world of traditional country and bluegrass music, where she has already made fans of Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss. Hull has been nominated for five IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) awards in the past three years, and is also a recipient of Berklee College of Music’s Presidential Scholarship.
The first time you hear Sierra Hull sing you’re going to do a double take. At first blush you’ll be certain you’re hearing a new Alison Krauss song you didn’t know existed. Sonically and stylistically there are distinct similarities, but Hull distinguishes herself as a songwriter and by her instrument of choice, the mandolin. The songs on Daybreak vary from pop/country to traditional bluegrass, but all shine with an effervescence that emanates from inside Hull herself. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is a declaration of sorts; of arrival in adulthood and of a setting aside the pain of the past. Hull’s voice is breathtaking, and her work on the mandolin is intricate, clean and full of heart. This is an amazing tune with real commercial legs; a great way to start off an album. “Don’t Pick Me Up” is built on a classic bluegrass sound. Hull will remind listeners a bit of a young Dolly Parton here. Hull’s band stands out here as well, building a tapestry around her that’s both a perfect fit and a perfect foil to Hull’s sweet voice.
“All Because Of You” is full of a quiet heartbreak. Hull’s voice is exquisite as always, and the mandolin and violin trade sparks, but the vocal harmonies are off the charts good and steal the show. “Bombshell” is a thrilling number that shows Hull and her violinist, Christian Ward, at their instrumental best. You could take Sierra Hull and her song “Best Buy” and drop her on the Grand Ol’ Opry Stage at any point in its history and she’d be right at home. Hull’s voice is quite simply perfect in this setting; easy, light and beautiful. “Best Buy” is a kiss off song, but is sung with such genuine sweetness that it’s a pleasant musical surprise.
“I’ll Always Be Waiting For You” is an old time country ballad where Hull’s voice, the vocal harmonies and the instrumentation all work together to achieve new heights of sonic beauty. Hull gets a bit of gospel in her soul on “The Land Of The Living”, a pretty and sweet number with a bit of Memphis in its roots that fits in nicely here. “What Do You Say?” is an energetic love song; an invitation to take or leave love how you find it. This is one of the seven originals on Daybreak, and shows that Hull has some real chops as a songwriter as well. Hull’s voice is as sweet as ever, and the mixture of banjo, mandolin and violin here is explosive. “Tell Me Tomorrow” is a song of hope and impending heartbreak; of putting off the pain until another day in the hope that something will change. The song is a dichotomy of sweet naiveté and sad knowledge that is compelling, sweet and sorrowful all at once.
“Daybreak” has future hit written all over it. Delivered here in an all-acoustic arrangement, it is a classic country/pop ballad that could easily take over the airwaves as it is. Sorrowful and full of heart, Hull has a winner on her hands here. “Chasin’ Skies” is another brilliant instrumental turn that’s high energy and fun. You won’t be able to keep your feet from tapping. Hull closes with the wistful and sweet “Wouldn’t Matter To Me”. The character Hull embodies here doesn’t mean a word of what she’s saying; it’s quite obvious that it matters to her a lot, but Hull is a breath of fresh air. Rather than trade on the sort of vitriol and anger that seem to drive a lot of today’s pop/country kiss-off songs, Hull works with real emotion in her songs. “Wouldn’t Matter To Me” is no exception. The end result is another tune that could take Hull to the top of the country and bluegrass charts, with the distinct possibility of crossover success to follow.
Sierra Hull combines the poetic grace of a seasoned songwriter with the emotional depth and vigor of youth on Daybreak, creating a dynamic in her songs that’s compellingly honest and real. Hull has a backup band that could sit in on any stage anywhere and be welcome, but its Hull’s sweetness and light; and that voice, that make Daybreak an album you’ll want to revisit again and again. Her voice is angelic, and her mandolin playing is full of a fire and technical brilliance that calls to mind Rhonda Vincent. Hull shows that she can play equally well on the fields of bluegrass, country and pop, and leads the vanguard of young artists who can play the pop game but show a deeper understanding of the roots of American music than has been seen in some time. Don’t be surprised if Hull is still a force in the music world 40 or 50 years from now. Daybreak is exquisite, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. Don’t be surprised when Daybreak shows up on a host of year-end best-of lists.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)Learn more about Sierra Hull at http://www.sierrahull.com/ or www.myspace.com/sierrahullmusic. Daybreak is available from Amazon.com as a CD or Download. The album is also available digitally through iTunes.