Review: Sierra Hull – 25 Trips

25 Trips is the fourth album on Rounder from 28 year old Tennessee bred Sierra Hull. She has built her reputation as a world class mandolin player, becoming the first woman to be voted Mandolin Player of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards in 2016, after a near-decade of consecutive nominations, and claiming that prize again at the 2017 and 2018 IBMAs. She made her Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of 10, played Carnegie Hall at aged just 12, then landed a deal with Rounder Records just a year later. She made her Rounder debut with the 2008 album Secrets, following this up with Daybreak in 2011, and the Grammy-nominated 2016 album Weighted Mindthe latter representing an artistic development from her bluegrass roots which is continued with 25 Trips.

25 Trips is an eclectic album, with a contemporary feel, showcasing Hull’s songwriting and exceptional vocals, crystal clear but with emotion and character, on 13 songs, self and co-written on the pleasures and travails of becoming the person and the musician she is today. 
The golden thread through the album is the combination of her shining vocals and virtuoso mandolin, but both are employed to serve the songs, never just to dazzle, as she takes us through songs varying from the traditional bluegrass feel of ‘How Long’, with fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar trading solos, and the lyrical instrumental ‘The Last Minute’, to the title track ’25 Trips’ with a mandolin driven middle eastern vibe.

Songwriting is strong throughout, with powerful themes, notably on ‘Poison’ ‘(Poison/You are poison to me/O true apothecary/Stole my sanctuary/Kissed my creation/with your lips of poison)’ and ‘Envy ‘ ‘(Envy keep your eye off me/Don’t even look my way/Give me just a day of rest/Don’t need compared today)’

Family themes emerge in in the reflective country vibe of ‘Ceiling to the floor’ co-written with Kai Welch ‘(I’m a little scared of heights/Been that way all my life/My Daddy held me to the ceiling/and I still recall the feeling/ of holding on too tight)’, and ‘Father Time’, co-written with Mindy Smith, with its choral introduction, on her husband’s grandma’s decline with Alzheimers, but still reached by music ‘(The way that you love her/Makes me love you even more/How lucky we both are to be yours/With every note you play, every chord/The way that you love her makes me love you even more)’.

Instrumentally the album features uplifting arrangements, with mandolin, fiddle and steel guitar creating memorable and hooky motifs. Co-produced by Hull and producer/engineer Shani Gandhi (The Mountain Goats, Sara Watkins, Dwight Yoakam), 25 Trips features guitarist Mike Seal, bassist Ethan Jodziewicz, violinist Alex Hargreaves, and fiddler Christian Sedelmyer, together with bassist Viktor Krauss, guitarist Bryan Sutton, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan, and steel guitarist Paul Franklin, and guest appearances by Molly Tuttle, Ron Block, Mindy Smith, Ronnie Bowman, Katie Pruitt, Angel Snow, and Hull’s husband, acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Justin Moses.

One of the strongest releases of 2020 so far in the contemporary Americana realm.

25 Trips Track Listing:
1.    Beautifully Out Of Place
2.    Middle Of The Woods
3.    How Long
4.    25 Trips
5.    Ceiling To The Floor
6.    The Last Minute
7.    Escape
8.    Poison
9.    Waiting
10.  Everybody’s Talkin’
11.  Envy
12.  Less
13.  Father Time
Review written by David Jarman
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