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Sierra Hull

Weighted Mind – 2016 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Sierra Hull

It has been nearly five years since Sierra Hull released a record. 2012's "Daybreak" (also on Rounder) featured startling mandolin playing by Hull and a strong, but still tentative, vocal style. "Weighted Mind" doesn't hold back on either score, and it's a beautiful work of contemporary bluegrass music.

No one is the same person at 19 as at 24, and Hull is no different. At 11, she played at the Grand Ole Opry with Alison Krauss. Hull was signed to a record deal at 13 and became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Hull's early promise has been realized and her solid contribution to bluegrass music is well displayed on "Weighted Mind." The release starts with a flourish: a brief, but bright essentially instrumental turn with some rousing runs and cross picking which offers a haunting lyric as a coda, before launching directly into a full-on vocal and mandolin duet in "Compass."

The production, by the estimable Bela Fleck is at once rich and present. It seems that Fleck took great care in curating Hull's songwriting and technical chops to allow her many strengths to shine. Nowhere does the marriage of her talents show more intensely than on "Wings of The Dawn," a simple-seeming song with lots of mandolin and bass counterpoint from Ethan Jodziewicz.

Hull gets vocal assistance from Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens, and Jodziewicz contributes greatly on several cuts, but at its core, this record is all Sierra Hull. To be sure, the struggles of a 24-year-old prodigy can threaten to be overwrought, but Hull avoids that risk in large measure on "Weighted Mind."

The CD is crisp, bright, direct and awash with clever playing (most notably on the CD's title cut). Sierra Hull is now an experienced and accomplished master of the bluegrass tradition who deserves to be heard.