Gaining recognition and success at a very early age can be a tricky thing to navigate for a musician in an industry when youth serves as the selling point. Nobody can remain a child prodigy into adulthood and the pressure to evolve and mature can be debilitating. It’s always a treat, then, to observe an artist translate hype, even when it’s well-deserved, into a sustainable career. Bluegrass singer and mandolinist Sierra Hull offers a shining example of that process nearly two decades after signing with Rounder Records at the age of 13 and releasing her label debut, Secrets, co-produced by bluegrass royalty Alison Krauss and Ron Block, three years later.
Hull has released several more albums since then, each one attracting an impressive array of guest musicians and singers like Krauss, Bryan Sutton, Dan Tyminski, Abigail Washburn, and Rhiannon Giddens. With her 2020 album 25 Trips she delivered the most mature, personal, and expansive recording of her career, its title reflecting the age when she began contemplating her accomplishments and where her life had taken her up to that point.
25 Trips features its fair share of classic bluegrass breakdowns with a slew of Nashville heavy hitters like guitarist Sutton, fiddler Stuart Duncan, and singers Molly Tuttle, Ronnie Bowman, and Ron Block lending their talents. Most of the songs reveal a sophisticated turn toward modern country and folk-rock, with introspective lyrics and expansive arrangements recorded with her crack working band, who’ve developed along with her. As American Songwriter noted about her evolved sound, “Those familiar with Hull’s bluegrass history might initially hear the never-before-included elements on this record – namely drums, electric guitar, and electric mandolin – as mildly out-of-place. However, as sonic symbols for the flow of time, personal growth, and a sense of openness fostered from the former, these new instrumental additions merely provide a welcoming opportunity to witness the continuing transformation of Hull’s perspective as a person and musician when reflecting on her past, present, and future.”