Sierra Hull – Daybreak

Today (3/8) is the official release date for Daybreak, Sierra Hull’s second album for Rounder Records.

Much has been said, here on Bluegrass Today and elsewhere, about this uniquely talented young lady. At 19 years old, she puts many experienced mandolin pros to shame. You might ask yourself how someone so young, and who has been been playing only a short time, could have such command over her instrument, and play with such passion and authority.

You might wonder how she came to be awarded a full scholarship at Boston’s prestigious Berklee School Of Music, or why Rounder Records signed her to record as a vocalist/mandolinist while she was still in high school. You might ask all that and more, but once you get to meet this impressive bluegrass pixie, you’ll understand in short order.

We spoke with Miss Hull recently about all the things swirling around in her life – new CD, college, touring, music video – and posted the first half of this discussion last week. That piece focused mostly on her educational adventures in Boston, and now that the CD is widely available, we’ll focus now on that.

Daybreak shows some real growth from her debut album, Secrets, released in 2008 when she was only 16. Of course, you expect a big leap in maturity from 16-19, and it is in evidence here. It shows most particularly in her voice, which sounds stronger and more focused – something she credits in part to her producer, Barry Bales, and partly to a couple more years of professional experience.

“Singing is really more personal than playing, and there is something about singing these songs has made me really want to sing them. Going into the studio this last time, I felt much more ready as a vocalist. There didn’t seem like as much pressure on me as a singer.

And Barry really challenged me to reach down deep and sing out strong. ‘Sing from your toes!’ is what he would say to me.

In the studio you can let go and take some chances. Plus you don’t have to focus also on playing and performing. You can concentrate just on singing and try some new things.”

One song that really shows this is Don’t Pick Me Up, written by John Pennell who has contributed several great ones to Alison Krauss.

“The great thing about working with Barry is that he pushed me to go beyond my instincts. I tend to be a little timid singing in the studio, but he really leaned on me to belt this one out.”

Don’t Pick Me Up: []

All of the songs on this CD are strong, including 7 of 12 written by Sierra herself. You can hear her growth as a vocalist on one of hers called Best Buy, a cute and clever swing song that came to her in an odd inspiration.

“That opening line… ‘you can buy me the best’ came while I was sitting in a shopping center parking lot, and I happened to look over and saw a Best Buy. I was sitting there bored, and started messing around with lyrics.

I never thought I would do anything with it, but it turned into a cool little song.”

Best Buy: []

Another Hull composition with a strong bluegrass vibe is What Do You Say,which she says is a tribute to one of her favorite bands of all time.

“This one was inspired by JD Crowe & The New South. They used to do these songs that are played really fast, but are actually slow songs – the melody moves slowly against the chords.

Wanted my band (at the time) to be the core band, but wanted it to sound different from Secrets. That’s why we had Ron Block playing guitar instead of banjo. Cory did a great job, but there was one track that I could just hear Ron Stewart on, and he absolutely killed it on this one.”

What Do You Say: []

This week Rounder has released a music video for the opeing track, Easy Come, Easy Go a song from Kevin McClung.

“He wrote Secrets from my first CD, so I’ve been familiar with his music for a while. A friend of mine turned me on to him. I’ve always been a fan of what he writes, so I always look forward to getting the next demo from him. A couple years ago he sent one with 10-11 songs on it, including Easy Come, Easy Go.

It’s a happy feeling song, and the first few lines really set a great mood for the record.”

In just a few days, it’s already the #2 new video at CMT. Not too shabby!

Rounder has also created a video bio in conjunction with Berklee, which shows Sierra at school and talking about her experiences there in Boston. Members of her band and the Berklee also share their thoughts.

While this multitasking college girl has been working herself silly this past few years, Sierra wouldn’t finish our discussion without offering praise for the team that keeps her pointed in the right direction.

I’m so proud of everybody at Rounder, Case Co and the guys in the band for working so hard on the album, on our tour dates, and everything! Plus all the great people at Berklee.

I am so thankful for them all.”

You can hear audio samples from Daybreak in iTunes.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.