Sierra Hull’s Weighted Mind begins with a composition called “Stranded”, but the hopeful jubilance on display in the ethereal, explorative nature of the way Hull impressively plucks her mandolin would call for more of a lilting sense of self-assuredness than anything else.
Bluegrass in general has been a genre that always prided itself in mastery of the earthy throng; from acoustic guitar to lap steel, upright bass, cello, fiddle, and mandolin, it’s one of the world’s most organic genres, but one of the most that, at least in recent times, finds itself leaning on reliance towards tremendous proficiency. Having emerged in the 2000s as one of a slew of teenage prodigies taking up bluegrass, Hull, of course, reaches those proficiencies with relative ease, but there is something about her latest release in particular that strikes as particularly impressive. It isn’t for the exact strike of mastery of which she, full of pride, emblazons her brand upon Weighted Mind, but the amalgamation of it and the sheer humanity which the album finds itself bursting in spades.
Beyond the lyrics based around the acceptance of life’s ebb and flow and the subsequent empathy which Weighted Mind oftentimes finds itself with at its central-most themes, Hull herself feels more self-assured in her craft than ever before – for good reason, of course, since she’s finally hit that spot where she can stop being labelled as just that one teen that was recognized by Alison Krauss. In her own sui generis sense, Hull has surpassed the boundaries which the industry often tries to entangle its artists into and has arguably entered into the same league as major players like Krauss herself.
Few people can play the mandolin like a maestro at Hull’s level can and even then, she has worked well throughout the years to differentiate herself as her own artist to the point that there’s certainly room for two to don the “mandolin master of newgrass” title. Every last composition on the record is well-suited to showcase her magnificent strengths on the instrument with a verve and rawness, coming across as intrinsic rather than calculated in a way that not many other instrumentalists of her caliber can emanate properly. She lilts across Weighted Mind picking away at her mandolin, a sense of grace, thoughtfulness, and ferocity altogether emanating through consistent themes of self-questioning and eventual liberation of the mind.
She collectively bears herself on the album more here than any other previous release would indicate, living up to the name as we round-about directly towards album-opener “Stranded”, which, despite its more jubilant instrumental undertones, as a whole reflects Hull herself being stranded in her mind at 22. Aforementioned themes of exploration have much more to do with finding oneself than it does about the sense of travelling the world, and Hull consistently reflects upon this across the record, even reaching out to her mom to quite her mind with a song on the aptly-titled “Lullaby”. Mixed feelings and contradictions abound, the pensive opener transcending into this breakdown (“Surely you know how I feel / when life just finds you standing still / with a heart that is growing old / with answers that may never come”) comes across as utterly human – and that in itself is far more impressive than even the gargantuan extent of mastery that Hull commands as a mandolinist.
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