Sierra Ferrell is a truly unique talent, following a path of musicality that has roots in the distant past yet sounds fresh during these troubled times.
Raised near Charleston, Ferrell was with her mom when she was a child as they drove over a railroad track one day and she saw humans hopping aboard and riding on a freight train, and that image captivated her. Later, as she grew up and began to pursue music, she hitched a ride on a few trains in earnest and led the hobo life, busking on street corners and perfecting her captivating style.
Finally, after years of hard work and rough times on the road, she landed a record deal with the Rounder Records label and was about to put out her first solo album in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Stopped in her tracks, she had to postpone her new-found position as a national recording artist for a year or so.
Now, this Mountain State troubadour, who has since relocated to Nashville, has released two wonderful singles from her new album “Long Time Coming,” including the captivating cut “The Sea” and the atmospheric and cool “In Dreams,” both of which you can watch now on YouTube. Ferrell’s full album will be released Aug. 21 and can be pre-ordered at sierraferrellmusic.com.
It has been a long journey for Ferrell, from busking on the streets of various cities and small towns to being in the studio with great musicians recording her new project. The musicians featured on “Long Time Coming” include the new phenom Billy Strings, fiddler Nate Leath, Chris Scruggs (the grandson of Earl Scruggs), four-time Grammy Award winner Sarah Jarosz, the reigning International Bluegrass Music Association Resophonic Guitar Player of the Year Justin Moses, Rory Hoffman and studio legend Dennis Crouch along with a host of other wonderful talents. The recording is co-produced by Stu Hibberd and Gary Paczosa.
The album also features two musicians with a family connection to West Virginia in Tim O’Brien and Jerry Douglas, both of whom have won multiple Grammy and International Bluegrass Music Association awards. O’Brien grew up in Wheeling while Douglas grew up in northeastern Ohio with his Mountain State-born parents and his grandparents living right across the West Virginia border.
O’Brien and Douglas are both appropriately featured on Ferrell’s song “New West Virginia Waltz,” which is a beautiful tribute to the state as she makes it the backing for a love song.
“I kind of figured out that everything was going to shut down last year, but I was really worried about humanity for just a minute as it was scary,” said Ferrell said. “It was depressing, though, as all of a sudden the album and everything was on hold. You don’t know what the future will hold when that happens. Everything is questionable. But, the silver lining was that I started to work on a bunch of new songs, which I will hopefully finish soon, and I’m excited to have tunes to finish up. Now, the album is out, and it feels awesome, and I’m happy to be here.”
Being an up-and-coming musician on the road is tough enough. Busking on street corners for food and gas money is even more precarious. While in the midst of that experience, Ferrell wrote the song “In Dreams.”
“I was in New Orleans and going through a time, and the city is very overwhelming but welcoming, in the beginning,” said Ferrell, laughing. “So, I was wrapped up in some things, and I just started writing that song. It just came out.”
O’Brien found singing on Ferrell’s album and on the song “In Dreams” in particular a pleasant challenge.
“I sang on three cuts on the album, and I think she is a great singer,” O’Brien said. “Her sound has a keen edge, and she doesn’t overdo her stuff. Her melodic sense is rich and complex, but it’s also natural. There was one song that was a challenge to learn and sing and it was ‘In Dreams.’ It has a Latin-kind of rhythm with fast melodic turns. It was a kind of carrot-and-a-stick thing as I wanted to see if I could do what it suggested I do, which kept me at the task. It just has some really unusual phrasing on it. I remember thinking that it was something that the great Joni Mitchell might do as it is beyond what most singers and songwriters come up with.”
Ultimately, after years on the hard road, this is Ferrell’s chance to shine and establish herself in the music world. Her years in West Virginia and traveling around the country have given her much to write about, and she is the kind of artist who will stay observant of the human condition as she moves forward.
“When I would hop a train, I didn’t really know where they were going,” Ferrell said. “I just kind of went, and everything has led me to here. I’m really happy now, and I just have to keep myself on the straight and narrow. I just need to focus and get in there and not mess this up.”
Ferrell is proud to be from West Virginia and happy that other Mountain State artists are making it in the music world at the same time, such as her friend John R. Miller.
Ferrell will perform in her hometown of Charleston at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 16, at Haddad Riverfront Park as a part of the Live On The Levee free concert series.
“I heard Sierra sing the ‘New West Virginia Waltz’ on YouTube and just thought, ‘That’s real, and it’s right,’” O’Brien said. “I think Nate Leath was on that video. She’s got a sort of a punk rock vibe, and there’s a small crowd of young folks that ride the rails like hobos, and she brings something pretty scrappy like that to her music. It’s scrappy, but it’s also just really good.”
Jerry Douglas agrees.
“She’s a good West Virginia girl who’s been bouncing around the country in cars and boxcars writing songs about what goes on in her world at the end of the day,” Douglas said. “She’s got a lot to say. It’s time to listen.”