There have been many examples of mainstream country music missing the boat on some very good vocalists over the years. Some of those singers, in turn, have thankfully landed in the bluegrass genre. What is Nashville Pop’s loss has been bluegrass music’s gain in many cases with artists such as Rhonda Vincent, Sonya Isaacs, Pam Gadd and Patty Loveless being good examples. You can add another one to the list with Donna Ulisse.
There have been bluegrass-fueled songs on each of Ulisse’s recent albums, usually one cut in particular, where her vocals soar and the excellent bluegrass musicians backing her up are given room to rip. On her When I Look Back album, it was the song “I’m Calling Heaven Down.” On her Holy Waters CD it was “This Crazy World.” On her new album, An Easy Climb, it’s rocking group effort called “Let It Rain.” Ulisse’s inspired vocals soon give way to some topnotch picking by Keith Sewell on guitar, Scott Vestal on banjo and Andy Leftwich on mandolin and fiddle.
Ulisse’s pipes can withstand the pressure of singing a fired-up bluegrass song, but she can also sing a pretty one to boot. An Easy Climb is sprinkled with both. However, Ulisse is more than just a talented singer as she wrote or co-wrote every song on this new album. Produced by Sewell, the other musicians featured include Viktor Krauss on bass, Rob Ickes on resonator guitar and Tony King, Greg Davis, Jon Martin and Rick Stanley on harmony vocals. Highlights include the deep-woods slinky “Black Snake,” the rollicking cut about love called “Crawlin’ Back” and a beautiful song about the family of a deployed soldier with “Where The Cold Wind Blows.” (Hadley Music Group, 11 Music Cir., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203, www.hadleymusicgroup.com.) DH