Anyone who is new to sweet-singing songwriter Donna Ulisse is in for a treat when listening to her new Gospel collection, I Am A Child of God. Regular fans, on the other hand, might feel a bit of déjà vu while listening to the 10 songs gathered on the Hadley Music Group CD – many of the songs have been recorded on earlier albums from Donna, and the two that she wasn’t involved in writing have been recorded and performed by many artists over the years.
But it’s all good. Donna has such a comfortable, down home voice that revisiting older songs make for pleasurable listening, and the accompaniment from an all-star cast of sidemen puts some mighty fine icing on the cake. The real treats, though, are the songs themselves.
Donna was, justifiably, one of three finalists last year for IBMA’s songwriter of the year award. She writes nifty little stories that get to the point in three minutes or so without ever coming across as preachy. She does that time and again here, from the blues-infused title cut that kicks off the CD to the tender love song, I Want to Grow Old With You, and the memory-filled Faith is a Journey, offering homespun advice from grandma about life and God.
All 10 songs in this collection are worth hearing on a regular basis, but to me, the best of the best are I’m Calling Heaven Down, which Donna wrote with Marc Rossi, the old hymn, This Is My Father’s World, and the oft-recorded Wait A Little Longer Please Jesus. These songs are tailor-made for reflective mornings as you wait for the coffee to brew and prepare to face the hectic day ahead.
This Is My Father’s World isn’t just a reprise of what you might have heard many times in church. Donna’s arrangement is spare, and surprising. Spare in that just two guitars launch the song. Surprising in that when other instruments kick in, there are just two – a low-note penny whistle and—roll over bluegrass traditionalists—an accordian. Don’t fret, though. The accordian is played so softly and tastefully that you almost have to strain to hear it. And the vocals! I could practically hear the angels sing, although it turned out to be Donna backed by Ben Isaacs, Sonya Isaacs Yeary and Rebecca Isaacs Bowman.
Wait A Little Longer Please Jesus has been cut so many times, by so many great artists – Bill Monroe, the Louvin Brothers, George Jones, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and more. So I was a bit skeptical when I saw it listed on the CD cover. I needn’t have worried. Larry Stephenson joins Donna and her husband, Rick Stanley on vocals that put this version on a par with any of those other versions of the classic from the pen of Hazel Marie Houser.
Quite a few all-gospel projects have popped up in the past couple of years. I Am a Child of God can stand with efforts from Dailey and Vincent and Rhonda Vincent at the top of the heap.
The big challenge for Donna and her band will be replicating the terrific studio work, especially by guitarists Keith Sewell and Bryan Sutton, resonator guitarists Rob Ickes and Randy Kohrs, banjo man Scott Vestal and fiddler Andy Leftwich. The Poor Mountain Boys are a tight unit but those are some mighty big shoes to fill.