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Donna Ulisse

Showin' My Roots – 2013 (Hadley Music Grouop)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Donna Ulisse

Bluegrass veteran Donna Ulisse chose to do a covers disc, although she did write two songs, along with husband Rick Stanley (yes, he is related to those Stanleys) and opens with "Showin' My Roots." It's an interesting number about her ties to bluegrass and country music, though it might not stand on its own outside the context of this album.

She closes with "I've Always Had a Song I Could Lean On." Ulisse is a good singer, and you might hear a bit of Martina McBride in her voice, perhaps some of Dolly Parton's sound, especially when she does Parton's "In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad." "I've Always Had a Song" is much like Parton's songs, full of memories and sentiment, a good description of many bluegrass numbers.

A good bluegrass CD - and this one is bluegrass-oriented - means good bluegrass musicians. Viktor Krauss or Byron House play bass while Scott Vestal is on banjo. Vestal has played with top names in bluegrass, beginning with Larry Sparks and later Doyle Lawson. Rob Ickes contributes his efforts on Dobro with Andy Leftwich (mandolin and fiddle) and co-producer Bryan Sutton playing guitar. This is a talented group of pickers supporting her vocals. Fayssoux McLean, Jerry Salley and her husband add harmony vocals to these two numbers.

Ulisse covers songs from the bluegrass and country worlds. The two genres have always been closely tied and songs cross the amorphous line between them so often that a good number of songs could be called countrygrass. "Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On" is presented as a quiet, almost dreamy ballad with minimal instrumental support, quite a change from Hank Locklin's hit version. Loretta Lynn's "Fist City," is a song that just isn't ballad material. Ulisse sings it in the same in-the-face style as Lynn, though her voice isn't as strident as Lynn's. You do hear her southern, country drawl in places that will remind you of Lynn's version. Sam Bush plays mandolin while Larry Cordle and Carl Jackson add harmony vocals. Another tough-woman number is "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," one of Tammy Wynette's hits.

An excellent bluegrass number is "How Mountain Girls Can Love," composed by Ruby Rakes, a name Carter Stanley used on many of his compositions. Larry Stephenson sings tenor with her. She does a good job with the song, though without the bite you hear in Tony Rice's version. Staying with the Stanleys, she offers "If That's the Way You Feel," a much softer version than the Stanley number. The most unusual selection is Rodney Crowell's "One Way Rider," a song that is as much rock as it is country, especially when you hear the Albert Lee - Vince Gill version. Ulisse does it well.

Good voice, good delivery, good pickers, a good formula for success. Ulisse delivers on this CD.