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Sierra Hull - Bush Hall, London (26th June, 2017)

LCM LIVE REVIEW

  • Line-up: Sierra Hull and Ethan Jodziewicz
  • Location: Bush Hall, London
  • Date: 26th June, 2017
  • Website: http://www.sierrahull.com/
  • Review by: Gary Smith

Monday night saw the remarkable first London gig by the Grammy nominated US Country star Sierra Hull, a mandolin virtuoso with the vocals of a young Alison Krauss. She was joined on stage for the performance by another high talented virtuoso musician, the double bass playing marvel Ethan Jodziewicz. The two instruments and Sierra's pure vocals complemented each other perfectly. Sierra and Ethan captivated the audience from start to finish, receiving a very well deserved standing ovation. The performance included many of the wonderful songs from Sierra's Grammy award nominated album 'Weighted Mind', some older songs from her previous albums, some brand new pieces including 'Sundance' and even some JS Bach, Prince and an excellent Loretta Lynn cover included for good measure.

Sierra came to bluegrass very early and she was a remarkable teen prodigy. Alison Krauss called her to the Grand Ole Opry stage when Sierra was just 11-years-old. Two years later, she signed with Rounder Records and soon became known as a remarkable mandolin player, a pure tone-true vocalist and a recording artist of high order. She later played the White House, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center. She became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music. Her new 'watershed' album 'Weighted Mind' is a wonderful fusion of Bluegrass, Folk and Americana. Produced by innovative banjo master Bela Fleck, it also featuring Ethan providing resonance and rhythmic complexity on his double bass, with the excellent Alison Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens adding their enchanting and world class harmonies.

Before the album's release it was a life changing time for Sierra and this is reflected in the album's central themes "It was a frustrating and somewhat difficult musical period for me," Sierra writes, "but out of it has come a new discovery of myself as a musician and I wouldn't change a thing."

Sierra shares the pain of losing her sense of stability. Having to renegotiate her relationships and about caring very deeply about choosing well. It's full of depth and maturity.

The interplay and arrangements between Sierra's vocals and mandolin playing and Ethan's sometimes bowed, sometimes finger-picked percussive playing was very special indeed. Two musicians of the highest quality making musical magic. At times delicate, at other times deep and haunting, always reflective, thoughtful and very personal.

The tone was set with 'Stranded', a deeply personal song about being adrift in live at an early age. Being in a place where you are not happy, almost stagnating. Wanting to move on and try new things, but others don't want you to change. It echoes with the sad refrain 'Dear 22.....I'm stranded here'. The beautiful and ethereal 'Compass' continues the theme "My skin is old. I need to shed it......Cause there's more to me. I have to let it out.". It's full of wonderful comparisons about losing your way and wanting to break free and change things. Themes which are also explored in 'Choices & Changes' "If you won't go where I'm goin', then I'll have to go alone." and 'The In-Between' "22 years with so much to learn. Too young to crash, but not to get burned."

Packed full of meaning is the title track 'Weighted Mind' "Should I leave or should I lay low, These walls must come down. So much left to figure out. Weighted mind - wasted time. A broken glass that never spills."

We enter into the classical world next with JS Bach's 'Invention No.6 in E Major' moving into an instrumental written by Sierra delightfully named 'E tune'

A new song in the set was the stunning 'Sundance' with it's haunting bowed double bass and fresh mandolin top notes. Sierra next turns to a Psalm about boundless divine presence for 'Wings Of The Dawn'. Heavenly and ethereal with soft hand picked mandolin, deep double bass line and Sierra's rich vocal. The album version has Rhiannon Giddens on backing vocals. 

A Loretta Lynn cover 'You Want To Give Me A Lift' gave goosebumps to the audience and performers alike. The traditional song 'Queen of Hearts' is always a firm favourite and this was segwayed into a lovely self penned instrumental 'Royal Tea'. Written for her mother was the lovely 'Lullaby'.  "I'm too old for a lullaby, but I'll never be too old to cry"

Full length solo Double Bass instrumentals due to the nature of the instrument are often hard to pull off.  'Jostling The Bugs' written in the Nashville summer and performed by Ethan alone on stage was an interesting piece demonstrating the mastery of his instrument.

The thoughtful and personal 'Birthday' was next. "So go ahead and walk with anger and make this girl your only stranger. If love was unconditional, well it ain't no more. Tell yourself that you know best and dwell with pride in your empty nest". From her 2011 album 'Daybreak' came the light-hearted and very catchy bluegrass 'Best Buy', inspired by a trip to electrical store in Cookville, Tennessee.

As the set closes to it's end we enjoyed the hopefully, forward looking and moving on song 'I'll Be Fine'. One of my favourites from Sierra's new album is the excellent 'Black River' and it was very fitting that in was the last song of the set. To get the 'party started' the encore was a wonderful bluegrass cover of Prince's '1999' with Ethan joining Sierra on vocals. 

Sierra reminds me of a cross between the excellent multi Grammy award winning Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz. On the strength of this performance it wouldn't be long before Sierra is winning one of her very own. Hopefully the fantastic Sierra and Ethan will return to London very soon.

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