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Donna Hughes

Gaining Wisdom – 2007 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Corinne Brown

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CDs by Donna Hughes

Alison Krauss has spawned an entire generation of sound-alike bluegrass artists: soft, nasal, honeyed and sweet, and pianist/songstress Donna Hughes is surely proof of that. The liner notes suggest that this debut will blow the listener away with its freshness and originality, but, instead, a strange sense of deja vu jumps out right from the opening track, "One More Time." Hughes is actually joined by both Krauss and Mary Chapin Carpenter here, creating soft harmonic fusion. And it's almost impossible to separate the voices or the style.

Hughes' version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," however, would stop any listener: it's solid and rich - better than the original, and Hughes' original "Not Anymore" with her on piano has to be the heartbreaker - flawless.

The best thing about bluegrass is its evolution as new voices carry a sound into new directions or interpret a style a new way. Hughes has enough talent to do just that - eventually. At this juncture, she's got good material, a great voice full of sincerity and passion, and the superb talents of musicians like Tony Rice, who produced, on guitar, Scot Vestal on banjo, Ron Stewart on fiddle and numerous others, who make every song brilliant. As a songwriter, her poignant lyrics ring true. Maybe someday she'll emerge with a sound that's even more distinctly her own.