Writing music reviews is my hobby, my escape from the real world. This past week has been so utterly surreal I have barely been able to do anything but stare aghast as the global coronavirus horror unfolded. The online chatter faded into insignificance for me and I haven’t been able to follow the music community in the same way really at all. I admire those who have been able to review albums, tweet, live-stream, share links, buy merch, help artists etc but I have spent most of my time frozen in shock and disbelief.
Before the virus hit I had been spending a considerable amount of time listening to the new album 25 Trips from mandolinist Sierra Hull. I was working though some ideas for my review, thinking about the central idea of this record: time and its grip on us all. Now time has the world in a vice. How long will this be our new reality? How long might it be until we all stand in a room together and hear live music again? How long before we get back the simple things we used to take for granted? We can’t go forward and see the future, we can only let the world spin and wait for our fate to unravel.
Honestly I don’t know if I can really write music reviews in the same way right now. I tried to. Over the last two weeks I have started and stopped this review so many times but it was impossible to focus. Nothing I said seemed to be of any real importance anyway.
But still I didn’t stop listening to music. Even in the worst of times they can’t take that away from us. Eventually I felt ready to write again, to try and bring some normality back to my own mind if nothing else.
Listening to this Sierra Hull album helped me a lot. I let it soothe me. Just her voice alone was enough – the opening song Beautifully Out of Place is particularly stunning. Her instrument, the mandolin, has always been a favourite of mine and just creates a wonderful distinctive feel to these songs. I love the use of the instrument on the title track and the instrumental The Last Minute in particular.
As well as experimenting with her instrument, her songwriting voice continues to blossom on this album. When you want reassurance from others that you are not alone, that fear and uncertainty are not things which have to defeat us, then songs like Ceiling to the Floor, can give you that.
The stand out track on the album for me is Escape, which is musically a little different and more experimental than her bluegrass roots. Lyrically this song just perfectly summed up my feelings about this last week. It’s about wanting to find somewhere to escape to, away from the crazy world closing in on us. That place for me is music and I thank Sierra for sharing her gifts with us right when we need them the most.
On Everybody’s Talking she contemplates the future and how fate is out of her hands. All I can do is move along / Take it day by day, which is good advice even when you’re not living through a pandemic. Shutting out the noise can be so hard to do, but it’s vital in times like these.
Father Time is a poignant love song and a tribute to her husband’s grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s, a timely reminder to appreciate and care for those elderly people who have endured so much but survived. This one was already reducing me to tears before the crisis hit and now feels even more powerful.
On Less she sings softly Someday there will be less to keep me up at night. Until then don’t let the world overwhelm you. Find the music to help you feel better, even if it’s only for a moment. Look out the window at the blossoming springtime and remember that time passes. We will find our way through.