There are so many vivid situations and characters in Donna Ulisse's first bluegrass album that listening to it is as illuminating as reading a book of great short stories. Those of us who have loved her voice since it blossomed on Atlantic Records in the early '90s are not surprised that she sings bluegrass with such knowledge and conviction. She can sing anything exquisitely, a point she made clear to the toughest audience in the world when she performed in 1999 at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremonies. The crowd adored her. And the next day, Terry Choate, who was then in charge of the event, was still shaking his head in amazement. "She's scary good," he marveled.
What is surprising-and delightful-is Donna's grasp of what authentic bluegrass music is all about. Keep in mind that she wrote or co-wrote every song here. Each one is about an Eden lost or a Heaven aspired to. This is precisely as it should be. At its heart, bluegrass is the soundtrack of people who are weary of the here and now. They yearn for a life so uncluttered and simple that it can exist only in the imagination, whether it's that "little cabin home on the hill" or a "cabin in the corner of Gloryland." Donna doesn't succumb to cabin cliches. Her metaphors are fresher and more startling. But all that old-time yearning for better days is still there in her lyrics.
In choosing Keith Sewell as her producer, Donna tapped into one of the most fertile talents in music. His facility for weaving just the right instruments and vocal harmonies together-and his ability to achieve those sounds-is astounding. The supporting musicians-most of who are already big names in bluegrass-are unparalleled in their versatility and inventiveness.
So here we have the elements of bliss-impeccable bluegrass music and Donna Ulisse's irresistible voice. It's better than a trip to the old homeplace.
"Donna's wonderful voice and songwriting skills plus the musicianship of some of the best pickers and singers on the planet equals a project extremely pleasing to the bluegrass lover's ear."
"Donna and I knew this record needed to be as organic as possible to give her voice enough space. Her vocals throughout the album are honest and pure. It was wonderful how the instruments responded to her as we tracked each tune. This approach allowed the lyrics to be center stage. The song was the focus; we built the track around that. Many records totally miss that concept, but that to me, is what makes this record special."