"It's hard to say which is more exciting, Donna's singing or her songwriting. 'When I Look Back' instantly establishes her as one of Bluegrass music's most formidable stars"
Virginia- born Donna Ulisse had a brief brush with fame and the major labels back in the early 1990s when she was signed to Atlantic Records in Nashville. A couple of singles made the lower reaches of the country charts and an album gained positive reviews but little in terms of sales. Seemingly out of the blue comes this album on a small indie label and it is quite a peach of a record. Co-produced by Donna and the underrated Keith Sewell, it is a much more personal record than her past efforts with all fourteen songs being self-penned. The musical arrangements are steeped in bluegrass, but in no way is this a strictly bluegrass album. For the most part it is full of mellow, acoustic songs that are just very well done.
Listening to Donna Ulisse is like smelling sweet honeysuckle or listening to the sound of a clear mountain stream. She has a beautiful vocal range with the best back up singers around---Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Rick Stanley, Curtis Wright, Keith Sewell, and Wendy Buckner Sewell. By the way, Sewell is an awesome guitar picker, really has a style all his own, never had the privelage to listen to him in depth, he plays effortlessly and does runs that make you just say "wow." Then Randy Kohrs is a Dobro player that is every bit as good as Jerry Douglas and a pleasure to listen to. Scott Vestal plays banjo and fits in well. Oh yeah, cannot forget Andy Leftwich on fiddle and mandolin, another great player in his own right. Then there are the songs. They are classic old-time country. You know the deal; a good human story, memorable melody, an instantly remembered chorus. A highlight is "She Needs Time", an emotive tale of an elegant mountain lady of vintage years. Another is 'She Goes Sailing," inspired by Donna's Italian grandparents. The rest of the material is of a uniformly high standard with the songs coming mostly from the partnership of Donna and her husband Rick Stanley (cousin of Dr. Ralph Stanley). An exquisite disc that should give discerning listeners hours of pleasure for years to come.
Donna Ulisse moved to Nashville in the 1980s and was signed to Atlantic Records. Her 1991 album "Trouble at the Door" launched the singer's career that led to national television and many other appearances. While no longer with Atlantic, Ulisse was encouraged to find her true voice through songwriting. Thus, "When I Look Back" is a visionary expedition of rediscovery for a talented singer who has chosen a bluegrass-based foundation for her original songs, five written independently and nine others penned collaboratively with Marc Rossi, Rick Stanley, Claire Davidson, Kerry Chater and/or Lynn Gillespie Chater. Donna's inspiration stems from personal experiences or those of family and friends. "The Walls Cry" tells an emotional tale inspired by a friend's difficult divorce. "She Goes Sailing" relates the story of her Italian grandparents who spend five years apart during their immigration to America. Evocative personal reflections are related in songs like "I'm Calling Heaven Down," "I Am A Child of God," and "If I Were."
A tribute to a hard-working, industrious Clinch Mountain relative, "She Needs Time" exclaims that "there just ain't enough hours to get it all done." Born in Virginia, Donna was playing in a western swing band when she met her husband Rick Stanley, a cousin to Dr. Ralph Stanley. I sense a bit of self-introspection when Donna sings about resting tired shoulders and easing a weary mind. Her liner notes admit that the music business has led her on a merry chase to find herself. Her maturity and energy now manifest themselves nicely in this engaging acoustic repertoire. Donna's strength is her ability to speak to today's emotions with songs like "Heartbreak River" and "I Want To Grow Old With You." The bluegrass drive is perhaps best captured in her distinctive and catchy "Doin' Time," passionate vocals serve up memorable lines in impressionistic songs. Background vocals are delivered appealingly by Keith Sewell, Larry Cordle, Carl Jackson, Rick Stanley and herself. "When I Look Back" is also tightly crafted with the stellar musicianship of noteworthy Nashville session players Keith Sewell, Byron House, Andy Leftwich, Randy Kohrs, Scott Vestal, Jesse Cobb and John Mock. The total package is one that intrinsically communicates Donna Ulisse's artistic vision and ideal place for her voice.