Hailing from West Virginia, Sierra Ferrell spent her youth busking across the States before moving to Nashville and signing to Rounder Records. She describes her sound as ‘past life’ music, which nicely encapsulates her mix of country, gypsy-jazz, folk and ragtime.
We begin in the waves of sadness on the brilliant The Sea before drying ourselves off in the sunshine strum of Jeremiah. Both songs sound like lost classics, creating this slightly hypnotic, hazy atmosphere like you’ve stepped into one of those old timey sepia photographs where the present fades into the past – even though you know it’s not an old photo it creates the same spooky feeling somehow. She’s collaborated in the past with Melissa Carper whose album Daddy’s Country Gold released earlier this year also feels like it exists in this modern vintage otherworldly place.
The heart of the album is the wistful sigh of Bells of Every Chapel which brings in Billy Strings, another young talent who focuses on real instrumentation over trends. The next songs At the End if the Rainbow, West Virginia Waltz and Silver Dollar could soundtrack the perfect evening on the dance floor in some run down honky tonk, where you’ve accidentally stumbled on the best band you’ve ever heard in your life.
Songs like Give it Time and In Dreams are so well written and performed, you sense recording them is the culmination of a life story of songs rather than the beginning (see the album title for this admission too). Putting her music up on YouTube and using social media has helped Sierra to gain new fans, and find an audience which is ironic really considering how her music couldn’t be less digital.
Perhaps another reason her music works so well on YouTube was because of the contrast between her youthful alternative image and the old timey sound. On record that contrast is a little lost and at times I felt she would have benefitted from the production being a little more ragged and raw. A song like Made Like That offers us the closest to confessional autobiography and you think an artist as talented as this could really develop something unique in the future by infusing more of her modern self into the musical past.
The overall effect of this album seems intentional: being out of step with the modern world is a statement of intent in these hyperconnected times. Sierra Ferrell is an intriguing, inventive talent who has released one of the most accomplished and enjoyable albums of the year. What’s exciting is that she has more places still to go and stories still to tell. I hope to be hearing more from her for a long time to come.