Monday, July 11, 2011
6:52 AM Christian Lamitschka 1 comment
Donna Ulisse - An Easy Climb (CD Review)
1. Let It Rain 2. Hand Me Down Home 3. I’ve Got Nothin’ 4. Crawlin’ Back 5. An Easy Climb
6. Black Snake 7. Her Heart Is A Stone Hard Ground 8. Lonesome Without You
9. Where the Cold Wind Blows 10. Flat Broke In Arkansas 11. Banks of Roane River
12. Faith Is A Journey 13. Shady Glen
Label - Hadley Music Group
Catalog # - HMG1007
UPC - 643157417255
Catalog # - HMG1007
UPC - 643157417255
Release Date - 14 June 2011 (Digital)
Time - 45:19
It’s hard to imagine that Donna Ulisse (pronounced "you-liss-ee") went from recording her great 1991 traditional-slanted country debut album TROUBLE AT THE DOOR on Atlantic Records and then didn’t make another record until 2007, some 16 years later, with a bluegrass styled album, aptly called WHEN I LOOK BACK. Now with this brand new collection AN EASY CLIMB she has released 4 albums on the Hadley Music Group label in the last 4 years. During those gap years when Donnas’ record deal with Atlantic terminated she focused on writing and demoing songs but admitted there was heartbreak because she lost track on her uphill struggle. Then years later regrouped and found her natural home going back to her Appalachian roots. “When I hit the bluegrass market it was as if the skies opened up. It’s truly where I’m supposed to be. It’s in my writing and it’s in the delivery of the song and the way I love my audience” she shares (EPK Video)
On this 13-track outing she sticks with a tested systematic formula, once again calling on the services of Keith Sewell to play acoustic guitar, produce and mix the record who in turn brings in a similar cast of top notch bluegrass players: Viktor Krauss (upright bass), Andy Leftwich (mandolin & fiddle), Scott Vestal (banjo) and Rob Ickes (dobro) . Donna, who tours extensively with her band The Poor Mountain Boys, supplies the back-up vocals. (watch studio video)
Ulisse now a prolific writer actually presented Sewell with 80 songs; she terms them “her babies”, which had to be pared down in the selection process. The first 5 of these were cut at Ocean Way Nashville in Studio B. The concept for Ulisse was to bring some of “the mountain back into this CD” but also she wanted her personality to come through in the other songs. The Hampton Virginia native self pens two of its numbers and co-writes on the remaining eleven.
With laughter from the get-go Donna and her Poor Mountain Boys despite the weather are in high spirits on the fast paced stomper ‘Let It Rain’. Drenched in banjo and fiddle the mood is joyous as the mean ol’ clouds roll by. The birdbath takes a hit and Donna gets all romantic as she sings: Our cabin’s dry and toasty near the stove, and your lovin’ keeps me cosy and so, We don’t mind this kind of rain – Has the wet stuff ever felt and sounded so good!
The mid-tempo ‘Hand Me Down Home’ is one of 5 numbers written with her husband Rick Stanley whose Cousin Dr.Ralph Stanley joined by the Clinch Mountain Boys sang at their wedding. Rick has shared his homestead and the mountain lifestyle with Donna. The song was inspired by the loss of Ulisse’s father-in-law – “Daddy passed on a November day and left his hopes and dreams. “ It relates a tale of both the beauty and the hardships endured in an area that’s now become more than land but heart and soul. Pine trees gently sway, 100 year old dahlias bloom and irises overflow a graveyard whose weather worn headstones bear the same last name. Many will relate to the heartfelt sentiments on this album gem as Ulisse treasures the deed bestowed on her – “My Daddy’s the family gold, It ain’t heaven but it’s awful close, this old hand me down home”
Ulisse turns to frequent collaborator Marc Rossi on ‘I’ve Got Nothin’, who lends his pen to a further 3 cuts. Here its lonesome unloved character pours out her feelings whilst insincere friends leave her abandoned. She feels as empty as the wine bottles they devoured when they said their goodbyes. After break-up it’s not the money she’s lost, but love, in a home that’s no longer so sweet.
On ‘Crawlin’ Back’ love is hard to resist as cupid lurks in the shadows. First steps and second chances are taken as sparks light up and heartstrings are pulled like a puppet on this bouncy affair.
Donna dedicates the gorgeous title cut ‘An Easy Climb’ to her husband, when reflecting, like waters in the mountain stream, on her marriage. Together they sit on the patio singing old songs for hours and have done since sweet teenage days - “Our Life is a beautiful melody, he has made my journey easier and lifted the load and it’s been an easy climb” she shares. On a track featuring a luxuriant dobro, following hard times this girl is now thankful for the hand she holds as life’s steep and curvy roads are calmly navigated.
The intricate ‘Black Snake’ has riffs reminiscent of Led Zeppelins’ ‘Heartbreaker’. In metaphorical terms it’s used to describe both the tricky tarmac mountain roads and crooked prohibition days of the moonshiners: That revenuer man knew what was rollin’ down the ridge, But he couldn’t catch my Daddy’s Ford.
Ulisse teams up with Irish singer songwriter Ben Glover on the admirable slow and dreamy ballad ‘Her Heart Is A Stone Hard Ground’. Life is no fairytale for this Cinderella figure. She has a mysterious past and a hard heart but a smile that captivates the male onlooker. On a moonlight night she vanishes like the dust rising in the glow and all he’s left with are distant memories.
The stormy break-up ballad ‘Lonesome Without You’ has a feel of an informal back porch session where love has become entangled like a web and feels as detached as a caboose from a runaway train.
Ulisse touches base once more with writers Kerry Chater and Lynn Gillespie Chater (who penned ‘She Walked Beside The Wagon for Lorrie Morgan) on the sad and moving ‘Where the Cold Wind Blows’. When the husband of Donna’s niece was deployed to Afghanistan she felt the urge to pay tribute to the military families whose loved ones have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Its words are powerful yet touching: They say you lay in a desert land / And your blood stains unforgiving sand / You faced the day like I knew you would / And I lost you where courage stood
There’s no turning back for the woman in the funky work-out ‘Flat Broke In Arkansas’. She’s penniless but her new found gypsy freedom is priceless having put those bad experiences behind her.
The softly ballad ‘Banks of Roane River’ tells of a hard working farm girl anxious to escape from a dreary existence and a troublesome world. The years take their toll and Sundays are but a minor relief as she dreams of breaking the crop cycle days. Feeling like a cast aside wooden wheel she longs for a day when she can lay down her woes by that quiet riverside.
‘Faith Is A Journey’ is a personal tribute by Donna to her late grandmother who gave her the gift of music, belief, and taught her life’s homespun lessons. She holds on tightly to comforting thoughts and her legacy when delivering the words: She sure gave a lot to this girl / When she taught me to trust in the world.
The spooky and mournful ‘Shady Glen’ is a fictitious folklore Civil War tale. The red leg militant soldiers meet their fate after they kill the old men, abduct the town’s women and plunder their land. The crafty Molly Vaughn a Confederate loyalist reaps revenge, first gaining their trust, and then stirring in poison concocts a deadly rabbit stew “enough to feed a kingdom”. The scarlet woman dressed in lace entertains them with snake-like dance moves as they consume their venomous fill from the army cans – And now those northern ghosts “roam through Shady Glen by evenin’ “
As we arrive through all the imagery at journey’s end Ulisse can rightly add her name to the ever growing list of excellent bluegrass releases in 2011.
Posted in: CD Reviews
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