Monday, December 14, 2009

Sierra Hull and John Cowan Show for Boston Bluegrass Union



The Boston Bluegrass Union welcomed Sierra Hull to her new college home at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the John Cowan Band to perform their Chrismas Show while also serving as backup band to Sierra for her set.  The smallish, but very enthusiastic, audience at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA greeted them with huge applause, welcoming each set back for encores, as well as brisk CD sales between sets and afterwards.

Sierra Hull


Sierra Hull, at age seventeen, brings a huge reputation as a mandolin player, having won contests, fronted her own band, and been nominated for three IBMA awards in 2009 including Mandolin Player of the Year, as well as a rapidly maturing voice to the stage.  Her stage presence has been growing, too, as she showed herself to very good advantage in her set.  With the benefit of very little preparation, she melded her voice and picking to Cowan's band as they supported her efforts.  Nevertheless, the set, as Sierra commented, was thrown together pretty quickly during a quick rehearsal and sound check in the late afternoon.  Despite the impromptu nature of the set, Hull's work was beyond excellent, giving her a chance to show her virtuosity on standard Monroe style mandolin pieces as well as her vocal ability as both lead and harmony singer.

Back Stage Warm-Up
Dr. Richie Brown, John Frazier, Jeff Autry, and Sierra Hull


Richie Brown and Sierra


From her rendition of  Marvin Gaye's "That's the Way Love Is" to a great, bluesy version of  "Lonesome and Blue," Sierra showed the versatility of her ever maturing voice, as well as her tender and full-toned mandolin play. Marty Stuart claims this song was written by Bill Monroe and Hank Williams in the dressing room at the Grand Ole Opry, and, even if it's not true, the story's good enough to repeat.  Hull ripped out your heart with her soulful singing and picking.  Combining with John Frazier, Cowan's mandolinist and a very good player in his own right, as well as the ever excellent Shad Cobb, the group changed the name of Monroe's Boston Boy to "Boston Girl" and then drove each other to new heights. The dual mandolin solos and the interplay between mandolin(s) and Cobb's fiddle provided one of the highlights of the entire evening. 

John Frazier


Shad Cobb



Frazier and Hull


Singing with a voice as pure and clean as John Cowan's must be intimidating for anyone.  Hull carried it off with great elan.  In "Rough and Rocky Road" and a wonderful encore performance of "Silent Night," the two blended voices very effectively and Cowan's soaring tenor voice on lead inspired the audience to sing along..  Finally, Sierra's set concluded with a rousing version of "Big Mon," with Frazier and her trading solos back and forth along with Jeff Autry and Cobb and then finishing with a wonderful twin mandolin duet at blazing speed and completely in unison.

John Cowan


At 56, John Cowan has brought his legendary tenor voice to bluegrass music since the early 1970's with the New Grass Revival.  His voice is instantly recognizable and well suited to a broad range of songs.  Throughout his performance in Boston, he showed himself to have lost none of his voice while, at the same time, proving to be exceptionally gracious and generous in his work with Hull, a relative newcomer.  His work as backup to Sierra in the first set was added to his willingness to bring her out on stage three times during his own showcase.

Sierra Hull and John Cowan


Cowan has a new Christmas album, Comfort and Joy in current release from which he sang a number of songs, some as solos and others in duet with Sierra. His rendition of Smokey Robinson's "Christmas Every Day" showed why Cowan has remained such a force in his own genre bending approach to music.  From Rhythm and Blues to Country  music, to pure bluegrass his soaring and expressive voice manages to thrill the senses while always presenting the lyric with absolute clarity.  His lovely rendition of "Ave Maria" was pitch perfect and deeply felt.

John Cowan


His classical rendition of Baton Rouge by Dennis Lynde was wonderful as well as a wonderful song backed by Cobb's haunting fiddle called "Black Lizard" about tornadoes in the midwest. Songs from his Christmas DC included Tex Logan's "Christmas Time's A'comin'" and a duet of "The Little Match Girl" with Sierra.



Jeff Autry sang Bobby Fulton's King of California to great effect as well as contributing his fine flat picking and flawless rhythm guitar throughout the concert.  Autry has been with a Cowan band for a dozen years, adding fine harmonies and good humor to this act.

Jeff Autry


The concert concluded with an encore of "Some Old Day," a Curley Sechler piece recorded with Lester Flatt and a rousing rendition of "Roanoke."   Relying very heavily on classic bluegrass repertoire with some infusion of Cowan's more contemporary works and a nod to his New Grass Revival days, the concert was a rousing success, setting a tone for both the upcoming Christmas holidays and warming the lovely room on a very cold Boston evening. 

Shad Cobb


John Frazier


Jeff Autry


John Cowan


Sierra Hull

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