5 Essential Songs by Sierra Ferrell

Sierra Ferrell left her West Virginia home and spent time busking in New Orleans and Seattle. Then, two songs blew up on YouTube, and the busking musician suddenly had a career.

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She writes and sings old-time folk music, but what separates her from others in the Americana field—apart from her resonant voice—is whimsy. Roots music draws people to it because of its familiarity, and familiar things are often predictable.

But Ferrell isn’t, which makes her music so engaging. Meanwhile, some artists sing about wildflowers and then spend time in a recording studio rounding the edges. However, Ferrell hasn’t lost the edges that made Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton effortlessly endearing.

Ferrell’s two studio albums—Long Time Coming (2021) and Trail of Flowers (2024)—are gorgeous and witty. She writes about familiar themes of love and loss with folky arrangements, but the emotional power comes from her wild honesty.

Her multidimensional characters have all the messiness and vivid flaws that make one human.

“Fox Hunt,” from Trail of Flowers (2024)

Using a four-on-the-floor kick drum, Ferrell aims for the distant Celtic sounds of old Appalachia. “Fox Hunt” is an upbeat and stirring woodsy panorama leading to a double-time hoedown that kicks in near the song’s end. Meanwhile, Ferrell sings as the hunter with starving bellies to feed while the music and lyrics transport you inside a fantastical wild episode.

Well, take the path down to the river. It is hunting time
Clothe the kids and feed the children. Oh, the meat is fine
Don’t let them dogs out of your sight, don’t let them slip through your hands
Just chase that fox down through the pine, through the cold river bend

“Dollar Bill Bar,” from Trail of Flowers (2024)

“Dollar Bill Bar” is a rambling number that tells the story of a woman who’s broken many hearts. However, by the song’s end, the narrator advises her man he’s better off alone. It’s a twist of perspective from her as she’s spent the song treating men like “a dime a dozen,” only to admit she’s the one who’s broken.

So if I ask you for a dollar bill down at the Dollar Bill Bar
Just think twice before you pony it up
Take me for a twirl on that floor
And if I tell you that I love you
And I tell you that I wanna take you home
Just turn around here and leave here
’Cause I’m telling you, you’re better off alone

“Ready or Not,” from Movie of the Week (2023)

Shakey Graves’ “Ready or Not” features Ferrell in a call-and-response song that follows a couple’s life span. The song begins with a night out, which leads to another date. “Ready or Not” documents the wedding while an electric piano bangs along loosely with an acoustic guitar. It ends with one partner in black picking the plot. They say, we’ll all be alright, but they know it’s not true.  

Saying we’ll all be alright
And you know it ain’t true
It’s always a matter of time
What else can you do?
We’re already telling a lie
Why not make it two?

“In Dreams,” from Long Time Coming (2021)

The guitars on “In Dreams” echo the Irish and Scottish ballads that made bluegrass. It’s the sound of Appalachia meeting Americana’s love of country music from California. Ferrell longs for love while contemplating the ephemeral nature of life. The message is clear: We’re all just passing through, so we might as well spend some time together.

I hope I’m in your dreams
The way you are in all of mine
You’ve got a love so fine
I wish that I could make you mine

“Holy Roller” from Zach Bryan (2023)

Ferrell duets with Zach Bryan on his self-titled release. “Holy Roller” follows a couple who see beauty and kindness in each other’s eyes. Their voices blend like the river edges they sing about. It’s not seamless, but it’s the earthy bank holding the water in, and it’s the kind of beauty and beast symmetry that never ages in classic duets.  

I ain’t never been a holy roller
But I found God in your eyes
The greens and browns remind me of a mountainside
All the days, it all had to come
And all the bad things that I’ve done
I ain’t never been a holy roller
But I found God in your eyes

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Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

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