It is rare that a young musician will take that spark of wonder that first inspired them to cradle an instrument and cultivate it to the point of full-blown virtuosity. Rarer still is for that virtuosity to emerge as just one facet of a well-rounded musical intelligence. Only sixteen years old as of this writing, Sierra Hull displays instrumental facility and musical maturity well beyond her age with Secrets, her national debut album. Hull began playing mandolin at age eight, and quickly became noted on the national festival scene for her fluid, inventive picking – winning several mandolin and guitar championships in the process.
While there is no shortage of hot picking on Secrets, what is more astonishing is Hull’s overall musicianship: she never overplays, never overwhelms the emotion at the core of the song, and is committed to a creating a band sound greater than the sum of its parts. Hull has developed into an exquisite vocalist since first starting to sing publicly two years ago, as amply demonstrated by the largely vocal-driven material that composes Secrets. Working closely with co-producer Ron Block (Alison Krauss and Union Station), Sierra’s vocal performances are disarmingly tender and eloquent, yet delivered with the confidence and honesty necessary to cut through a top-notch bluegrass ensemble. Among the musicians and vocalists joining her on Secrets are Block, Barry Bales, Dennis Crouch, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Clay Hess, Rob Ickes, Chris Jones, Jason Moore, Tony Rice, Dan Tyminski, Jim VanCleve, and the remarkably hard-driving seventeen-year-old banjo phenom Cory Walker, who has already played alongside Sierra for several years.
Articulate and engaging on-stage and off, Hull has already emerged as a leading light in a new generation of bluegrass musicians. She was a featured performer on the Great High Mountain Tour, which included an all-star bluegrass lineup performing songs from the soundtracks of the hit movies O Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain. A seasoned performer, she has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry radio and television shows, and shared the stage with bluegrass legends such as Alison Krauss, IIIrd Tyme Out, Sam Bush, Mountain Heart and Ricky Skaggs. Her talent and charisma never fails to awe even the most seasoned veterans. “It’s amazing to listen to her precision and agility, and the potential for musical growth is tremendous,” Bush raves in the liner notes to Secrets. “I can’t wait to hear what Sierra comes up with next.”
An active member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), Sierra has been performing in that organization’s annual convention showcases of young bluegrass talent since she was ten. As co-host (with Ryan Holladay) of IBMA’s educational DVD release Discover Bluegrass: Exploring American Roots Music, Sierra played an integral part in their effort to introduce young audiences to this uniquely American genre.
Sierra has been exceptionally busy over the past two years, winning over a wide range of audiences via extensive festival appearances (including Merlefest and Rockygrass in 2007), numerous performances at the IBMA conventions in both 2006 and 2007, as well as IBMA-sponsored workshops and teen showcases. In addition, her state senator invited Sierra to perform the “Star Spangled Banner” at the 2006 Gold Star Mother’s Day tribute. She was also privileged to participate in the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) Honors & Awards show honoring Alison Krauss. She also co-hosted (again with Ryan Holladay) and performed at the prestigious Carnegie Hall Family Concert Series held in the renowned Isaac Stern Hall, and in February 2008 joined Ron Block, Bobby McFerrin, and Edgar Meyer – after which the New York Sun praised her in print as a “wonderfully adapt” mandolin player and “a lovely singer.”
Secrets (to be released on May 6 on Rounder Records) promises to spread word of her formidable talents throughout the bluegrass community and beyond. Though she self-released an enchanting instrumental CD, Angel Mountain, in 2002, Secrets reflects a staggering amount of growth over the six years that separate the two projects. “What I’ve seen in Sierra over the months of working on Secrets is a passion for music in general – and specifically for bluegrass,” reflects Secrets co-producer Ron Block. “She has an intense desire for excellence, a love of good songs, and an attention to detail that is not often found in someone so young…she’s only going to get better and better as time goes on. It’ll be intriguing to watch how her vision and creativity affect the future of bluegrass in the coming years.”
Despite the praise and acclaim that swirls around her, Sierra Hull remains humble, down to earth, and gracious. It is this good nature that has already endeared her to so many and continues to charm and impress all who come into contact with her. “Sierra is a remarkably talented, beautiful human being,” says Alison Krauss. “Success could not come to a more worthy person. I adore her.”