The singer and songwriter Katie Pruitt is one of the new voices on the big tent Americana scene. On her debut for Rounder Records called Expectations, the Georgia native delivers a powerfully honest set of songs of a highly personal nature about growing up gay in the South. They are songs that need to be heard. Her album receives the Ear Bliss look-see this week along with the new release from singer/songwriter and multi-instrument virtuoso Sierra Hull called 25 Trips. It is a captivating set of contemporary acoustic music (with a little electric, too) with the talented Hull at its core. Let’s get to it.
On her debut album for Rounder Records called Expectations, the twentysomething singer/songwriter Katie Pruitt bares her soul in unflinching fashion. Put simply, it is a powerful performance. The suite of songs is a coming-of-age collection of stories that span her teen days growing up in Georgia to her college days experiences to her move to Nashville to pursue a career in music and where she is now located. Specifically, these are the tales and observations of a female, that being Pruitt herself, reflecting on growing up gay in the South. Overcoming the expectations of both herself and others, relating experiences along her journey, and finally reaching a point of comfort and acceptance of who she is, frame the 10 songs comprising Expectations. Says Pruitt, “This record’s really about letting go of what other people expect from you and being free to just finally be yourself.” Set to a melodic musical backdrop that fluctuates between stylings of gauzy rock, folky pop and Americana, Pruitt’s rich and expressive voice beautifully conveys the complex emotional terrain of her songs. They span “Georgia” about the difficulties in coming out to her family to the brutal honesty of “Grace with a Gun” about a college love gone bad to finding her true and current love as on “It’s Always Been You” which closes the album on a very positive note. Honesty in songwriting is always something to behold and, on that front, Pruitt shines, as does all of Expectations. Recommended. Visit www.rounder.com.
Now just 28 years old, the resume of the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sierra Hull is an impressive one. The mandolinist made her Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of 10. Two years later at age 12 she played Carnegie Hall, and only a year after that inked a deal with Rounder Records where she been since 2005. Oh yeah, add in her being the first female to win the prestigious International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Mandolin Player of the Year award in 2017. She has been a repeat winner ever since. Hull’s 4th album for Rounder called 25 Trips has just been released and continues the evolution of her artistry. There has never been any arguing Hull’s virtuosic talent on mandolin, not to mention a host of other instruments. While that virtuosity with stringed instruments at times may steal the thunder, as 25 Trips clearly demonstrates Hull continues to mature as a singer and most importantly, a songwriter. This latest release follows her Grammy-nominated 2017 album Weighted Mind which was produced by Béla Fleck and got a nod in the Best Folk Album category. 25 Trips is noteworthy in that it marks the introduction of electric instrumentation and percussion onto a Hull album for the first time. It plays into the collage of sounds and exquisite arrangements found on the album which offers a buffet of sounds moving from the modern with case in point opening track “Beautifully Out of Place” to the traditional (for long-time fans, Hull has not forgotten her bluegrass roots as demonstrated on lively numbers like “Middle of the Woods” and “Envy”). The moods are many, as well, from the pretty country-styled love song “Ceiling to the Floor” featuring Nashville-based pedal steel great Paul Franklin to the standout “Everybody’s Talking” which shows Hull’s growth as a songwriter (and is also this scribe’s favorite track on the album). Not even 30 years of age, but with almost two decades in the business, Sierra Hull on 25 Trips is an artist seasoned beyond her years, Visit www.rounder.com.
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.