While the sound and spirit of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton appear to inform every note and nuance that inspire Donna Ulisse’s vocals, the singer herself has no need to lean on any comparisons whatsoever. Winner of the 2016 IBMA Songwriter of the Year award and the 2017 Songwriter of the Year honors from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, Ulisse’s list of accomplishments date back over two decades courtesy of a career that’s tallied a dozen albums, several chart-topping offerings, and an extensive list of songs covered by any number of outstanding artists.
Those unawares would be well advised to opt for a quick catch-up and there’s no better place to begin than wither striking new LP, Time To Love. It’s worth noting that while she’s assisted in this effort by both her own backing band and an exceptional group of bluegrass veterans — guitarist Cody Kilby, fiddler Stephen Burwell, resonator guitar player Josh Swift, and percussionist Nathan Fauscett among them — she refuses to be confined to any approach in particular.
Producer Doyle Lawson gives her all the latitude she needs to run through a wide gamut of material, from whole-hearted love songs (When I Go All Bluegrass On You, A Little Less Gone, When We’ve Got Time for Love) and sprightly expressions of joy and jubilation (My Whole World Is Standing Still) to contemporary Gospel hymns flush with sacred devotion (I’m Not Afraid, Come To Jesus Moment) and a lively remake of a favorite folk classic (I’ll Never Find Another You). A superb songwriter — she cowrote ten of the album’s twelve tracks — Ulisse demonstrates an earnest intent throughout, and her enthusiasm never wavers from the first song to the last.
Of course, there’s no denying the fact that the songs can be measured with a bluegrass barometer, given the robust arrangements and the fact that the accompaniment maintains a traditional template. Red Top Mountain Road, Get On Home Boy and Seven Lonely Days express a sense of deep devotion to the down-home delivery that affirms a continuing connection to her roots.
Even so, given its contemporary connection, it’s clear that Time To Love on Billy Blue Records is the effort to prove that indeed her own time has come as well.