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Happy Hosting, Happy New Year - Rob Ellen
Bluegrass singer-songwriter, Donna Ulisse (pronounced You-liss-ee)—nominated songwriter of the year by the IBMA the last two years forgoes her own material, other than two co-writes with her husband, Rick Stanley (cousin of Dr. Ralph Stanley) on her latest album.
Their songs “Showin’ My Roots” and “I Always Had A Song I Can Lean On” speak a great deal about how Ulisse decided on music as a career, and how songs have always been a great comfort to her during hard times (as illustrated in the lyrics of the latter). Title cut “Showin’ My Roots” starts off the album at a gallop as she speaks of her great inspirational figures of Loretta (Lynn), Dolly (Parton) and Merle (Haggard); and how their writing lit a fire in her. She doesn’t hide where she is from, musically. Just the opposite is true. As she sings about how her past shines like a beacon on taking loan of songs from the repertoire of the ladies, plus Carter Stanley’s “How Mountain Girls Can Love”, Peggy Stanley Bland – Ralph Stanley’s “If That’s The Way You Feel”, Rodney Crowell’s “One Way Rider”, Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow You Dream On” and traditional favourite, “Take This Hammer” (on having Sam Bush share lead a better version could not be asked for) and there are others too.
The album is co-produced by Bryan Sutton and Ulisse, and as you would expect has a list of quality pickers assist to give their all. Pickers are Sutton (guitar, banjo), Andy Leftwich (fiddle, mandolin), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Victor Krauss, Byron House (upright bass) and Scott Vestal (banjo), while harmony vocals come from Fayssoux McLean, Rick Stanley, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Larry Cordle, Carl Jackson, Larry Stephenson and Jerry Salley. Usually used in permutations of two, the vocalists like the pickers give stellar support to Ulisse who for her part hits the road running to never look back.
As for choice tracks a few of the tunes have already been listed above, but it is the joy and drive that goes with them and grace on the ballads that grabs the listener's attention most. Her liner notes give detailed accounts of how the songs effected her and were part in her growing up / developing as a performer. Loretta’s “Fist City”, Dolly (though it is Hag’s version she goes for) “In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad” and Tammy’s (Wynette) hit “You Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and another Loretta hit. Only this it’s one she did not write, “Somebody Somewhere” (Lola Jean Fawbush). Awash in tempered emotion Dobro Ulisse comes through with the strongest performance on the album. A match for Lynn if ever there were one.
While the impact of the players near edges out Ulisse on a couple of songs she wins through with plaudits on “Wait A Little Longer Please Jesus” and a song that was written by her great uncle Eugene Butler (w/Bill Carrigan) who penned “I Hope You Have Learned”, as covered as a duet by bluegrass legend Bill Monroe (Monroe Brothers). Be sure to check out her website for more; her bluegrass / gospel music likewise is excellent.
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