There may be no more successful song incubator than the Lil House songwriting workshops conducted by Donna Ulisse, Jerry Salley, and Rick Stanley at Donna and Rick’s farm in Lebanon, Tennessee.
The Family Sowell, Ulisse, and a handful of others have recorded songs that were written during these intensive sessions.
But there’s no better advertisement for those workshops that Ali Shumate. The Florida songbird not only wrote some of the songs on her CD at the workshops, but she came away with writing deal with Uncle Hadley Music, and a label deal with Hadley Music Group.
The fruits of both deals are found on Every Bit of Me, Shumate’s debut on the new Hadley label. She wrote or co-wrote all 13 songs, and sings them with an astonishing voice that recalls Mary Chapin Carpenter at her best, with a bit of Linda Ronstadt thrown in for good measure. Shumate is bluesy in places, heartbreakingly tender in others, and can swing, too, sounding down-home authentic wherever she lands.
She’s already all over the Gospel and bluegrass charts with songs from this project. For me, her spiritual and sentimental numbers are the ones most worth writing home about. Topping my list are Mama’s Bible, I’ll Dance Forever With You, and Each Lesson That I Learned. All three are deeply personal songs from different chapters of Shumate’s life, a testament to the Songwriting 101 advice that you should write what you know.
I was fortunate enough to hear Mama’s Bible shortly after it was written, during a picking party at the farm. I had just finished cleaning out the family homestead in Pennsylvania, and found, among an impressive collection of Bibles, several that my mom had used through the years. Each was well worn. Shumate’s song, written with Ulisse, tore me apart then, and the recorded version still does.
I’ll Dance Forever With You, written with Marc Rossi and Mike Swartzentruber, is a nod to the permanence of love that some people are blessed to share. Shumate’s role models were her Aunt Connie and Uncle Bob, high school sweethearts who kept dancing for more than 50 years, through happy times and countless bluegrass festivals, and into Bob’s final illness.
Each Lesson, which Shumate and Ulisse wrote with David Haley Lauver, recounts what Shumate experienced as a hospice nurse. As she wrote in the liner notes, she spent every day with individuals facing “the reality of leaving all they have here on earth, including everyone they loved.” The song expresses that sadness but also offers hope that they’ll be reunited again someday.
If you’re ready for a change of pace after that powerful, gut-wrenching trilogy, check out the saucy Long As I Got That Man of Mine and Jezebel, another Shumate/Ulisse/Lauver creation.
After several dealings with hospice, I’ve come to believe that the nurses and volunteers are angels who walk among us on Earth. Fortunately for us, this one also writes and sings. Every Bit of Me is every bit a keeper.