Back in the summer of 1992, I absolutely fell in love with a song by a newcomer on Atlantic Records. The name of the song was "Trouble At The Door," and the artist was named Donna Ulisse. The song was steeped in some of Country Music's greatest traditions, but never clicked with the major players in Country Radio. That takes nothing away from her talent, which fortunately has been noticed the past few years by people in the Bluegrass world.
Her latest album is a dynamic showcase for those traditional-styled vocals, and to be honest---it's all good! There's simply not a filler track on here. I could write many words about every song on this collection, but you might get tired of reading. Trust me, it's that good!
With those glowing words said, I will tell you that some of my favorites here include the lifting "In My Wildest Dreams," as well as the Dolly-esque "Poor Mountain Boy." She takes an emotional stance on "Love's Crazy Train," and turns into Loretta Lynn on the spicy "The Trouble With You."
The Gospel numbers are also very effective, with "Dust To Dust" and the title cut being among the best. Scott Vestal's thumping banjo helps set the tempo for the latter, and the finale, "Levi Stone," is one of those haunting story songs that only an artist as traditional-minded as Ulisse could pull off. Go get this one today, folks, you won't be disappointed!
Walk This Mountain Down feels like a trip Donna Ulisse might have made a time or two in her life.
That's the title of Ulisse's new CD, recently released on the Hadley Music Group label.
Donna Ulisse, you ask?
Granted, the monicker isn't exactly a name to drop in bluegrass circles, but she could be a force to be reckoned with. Not that she hasn't already left a few marks on the music industry. And, a bluegrass mark or two has been left on her, most notably by her marriage to Rick Stanley, cousin to Dr. Ralph Stanley. But she's done plenty on her own, thank you, including working Nashville recording sessions with country artists and, for a time, doing a solo gig on the heels of a deal and album with Atlantic Records.
But, Walk this Mountain Down is a strong statement about Ulisse's roots in the Clinch Mountains. And, make no mistake, it's pure bluegrass, minus the token cover or two of a classic tune. These tunes are all Ulisse's songs -- mainly good story songs sung in great, heart-felt fashion. She wrote or co-wrote each of the 12 tracks.
The CD is heavily flavored with mountain scenes and mountain people and their lives, hard times and strong beliefs. I especially enjoyed "Levi Stone," a song of tested faith. "I knew this man," Ulisse writes in the liner notes. But Ulisse delivers this song with such conviction, the listener might have easily guessed that to be the case.
"Child of the Great Depression" reminds me of my own frugal mom, who lived through that era as a child. Others who have parents or older relatives who lived during The Great Depression will also appreciate and understand this wonderful song.
There is a lot of variety on Walk this Mountain Down. At times, it's just high-energy bluegrass and at other points, Ulisse and her group of A-team backup musicians flirt with the blues and even a tiny bit of funk. But again, it all boils down to bluegrass.
In the hands of the wrongly guided producer, Walk This Mountain Down could have been one of those milk-toast, quasi bluegrass productions aimed more at the mainstream Nashville crowd than the parking lot picker crowd. But producer Keith Sewell kept his bluegrass tunnel vision steady on this one and out came a CD that bluegrassers should embrace.
Sewell also plays guitar and sings background vocals on the CD. Other musicians making contributions to Walk This Mountain Down are Andy Leftwich, Rob Ickes, Scott Vestal and Byron House. Claire Lynch makes a cameo doing background vocals on "Levi Stone."
Bottom line, Walk This Mountain Down is a nice collection of new songs delivered with tender loving care and a great deal of skill.
Classic bluegrass-flavoured country with an Appalachian slant
Virginia-born Donna Ulisse is back with her second acoustic-based bluegrass flavoured country album, and I have to say that she's topped WHEN I LOOK BACK her superb 2007 album that saw her return to recording following a fifteen year break. Not surprisingly, WALK THIS MOUNTAIN DOWN is an excellent traditional-styled country album with songs that span gospel, country and bluegrass. Donna's vocal performance makes this album, as she sings beautifully, heartfelt, and with such purity, reminiscent of early Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. Roughly, this is a collection of songs about the real-world and based on reflections of life, love and emotional intricacies.
The arrangements are diverse, keeping with the traditional bluegrass sound with such pickers as Andy Leftwich (mandolin, fiddle), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Scott Vestal (banjo), Byron House (upright bass), and producer Keith Sewell on acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. All songs are self-penned by Donna, some co-written with her husband Rick Stanley, others with Marc Rossi, and the excellent Love's Crazy Train with Richard Leigh (writer of Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue). A sad-edged ballad with fiddle and softly-stroked banjo to the fore, this is traditionally done, with a clean and beautiful vocal performance and nice vocal harmonies on the chorus. Claire Lynch joins in on the background vocals on the evocative mid-tempo Dust To Dust about grieving and death--the arrangement has an eerie feel to it.
The past twelve months has been quite a year for me, lots of great music, but this record really has moved me with its thirteen original songs. It is well-produced though not over-produced, so it maintains that great raw country sound. If you enjoy female singer-songwriters and relevant, real-world, and emotional lyrics, give this CD a try. AC