West Virginia native and current Nashville resident Sierra Ferrell says she’s listens to everything and, when you hear her music, you’re inclined to believe her. The singer-songwriter, who recently released her label debut, Long Time Coming, on Rounder Records, combines bluegrass and the Appalachian mountain folk music of her home state with not only swing and jazz, but even strands of Latin music. All of this is brought together by her unique, distinctive voice, which sounds as though it is out of time.
I caught her just in time to experience that powerful sound at The Hamilton Live in DC recently.
About a decade ago, when she was in her early 20s, a troupe of traveling musicians inspired Sierra to take up the lifestyle herself. She left home and journeyed across the country, busking in several cities. Eventually, about five years ago, her incredible performances were recorded and streamed on YouTube, where they drew a large audience. Her career began to take off, and over the next few years, she would appear at major events like AmericanaFest in 2019.
All this momentum, of course, hit a brick wall in 2020 when the pandemic ground things to a halt. After years on the road, Sierra was now firmly in one place — Nashville — and it was here she signed a three-album deal with celebrated roots music label Rounder Records, releasing the first, Long Time Coming in August of last year.
Naturally, songs from that album made up the bulk of her set when she performed at The Hamilton Live on April 6. She began with “In Dreams,” which was one of the songs that blew up on YouTube. Many of the songs, starting with “Give It Time,” dealt with romantic love.
Watch Sierra Ferrell perform “Give It Time” live at Jaan’s House in Nashville on YouTube:
Sierra later performed “Bells of Every Chapel,” a tale of unrequited love, while “Why Haven’t You Loved Me Yet?” didn’t really require any explanation. “Why’d Ya Do It?” connected the love songs on the album to the opener, “The Sea,” with its paean to Poseidon.
Bodies of water are a recurring image in Sierra’s lyrics. In “Far Away Across the Sea,” our protagonist bemoaned being forgotten about by her love. The new “Lighthouse Song” also expounded on these ideas.
The influence of jazz, both of the standard and gypsy variety, loomed large over Sierra’s body of work. The country waltz, once a standard of Western swing, is a form that’s rarely seen today, but it’s one that Sierra has adopted with gusto. She included two of them, “Whispering Waltz” and “West Virginia Waltz,” in Wednesday evening’s performance.
Sierra played several other original tunes: “I’d Do It Again,” “Silver Dollar, “Made Like That,” “At The End of the Rainbow,” and “Jeremiah.” The set also included several covers: “The Snakes Crawl at Night,” which was made famous by Charley Pride; Tim O’Brien’s “The Garden”; and the Delmore Brothers’ “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.” For her encore, she brought opener Timbo out to join her on a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” then closed out the evening with the folk standard “Goodnight Irene.”
This show drew a particularly diverse crowd. I saw all forms of headwear: baseball caps, cowboy hats, and even a turban. There were also folks in the audience with shaved heads, dreadlocks, and lots of piercings. I’ve heard the legends of how Willie brought the rednecks and the hippies together in the ’70s, and this felt a little like that, 50 years on. It’s a testament to the power of what Sierra Ferrell is doing that it touched all kinds of people from very different walks of life, bringing them together to enjoy, at The Hamilton Live.
Sierra Ferrell performs again in our region at The 8X10 in Baltimore on Tuesday, April 19! We will see you here.