Sierra Hull

Daybreak

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There are lots of musicians on the bluegrass scene who play traditional, straight-ahead bluegrass, and some who combine it with elements of modern acoustic jazz and country music, but there are few who move back and forth from straight-ahead bluegrass to newgrass fusion with as much grace and as little obvious effort as Sierra Hull does. On her second album, she presents a program that includes seven original songs, and it's hard to know where to start in praising her: she has a voice as clear and carefully modulated as that of a young Alison Krauss; her songs are rooted in tradition but full of sly and subtle complications that will take any careful listener by delighted surprise, and her mandolin playing is a thrilling combination of sparkling precision and jazzy abandon. For acid-grass fans there's the rock-solid but creamily smooth "Don't Pick Me Up," a 1950s-style uptempo abandonment plaint; for those who miss the halcyon days of Grisman-Rice-styled New Acoustic Music, there's the brilliant instrumental "Bombshell" (listen to that mandolin solo, for crying out loud); and for those who think they have her pegged, there's a little slice of hot Western swing called "Best Buy." And everything else on the album falls somewhere along that bluegrass-newgrass-jazz spectrum, except for the title track, which is a stunningly pretty acoustic pop ballad. Not bad at all for a 19-year-old; in fact, it would have been a proud achievement for someone with 20 years in the business. It's hard to imagine how she'll top this one.

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