My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Donna Ulisse – ‘Trouble At The Door’

There was a lot of great music in 1991, and the debut album by Virginia-born Donna Ulisse fell through the cracks. Produced by Ray Baker, Josh Leo and Larry Michael Lee and released on Atlantic Records, which was dipping its toes into country music, it showcased Donna’s beautiful alto voice.

Lead single ‘Things Are Mostly Fine’ is an understated mournful ballad about not getting over an ex, which Donna sings beautifully. It is one of four songs written by John Adrian, whose other writing credits appear to be for Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock. Sadly it peaked in the 70s on the country charts. Also gorgeous is his tender steel-laced ‘Fall Apart With You’, about seeking consolation in a one night stand with some guy who a looks a little like her true love. The gentle waltz ‘My Broken Hearts Breaking All Over Again’ has lovely fiddle and an exquisite vocal. ‘Legend In My Heart’ is another ballad, a tender tribute to a real life hero who is better than fictional characters, with a beautiful melody.

The bright fiddle-led up-tempo ‘When Was The Last Time’ did a little better as the second single, with its #66 peak making it Donna’s most successful stab at radio. The Buck Moore/Frank D Myers song urges the protagonist’s husband to keep their love life fresh despite struggling through hard times. It is a really nice song which deserved to be a hit.

The title track failed to chart. Written by husband and wife team Kerry and Lynn Gillespie Chater, it is an emotionally intense but subtly sung story about a wife who answers the door to her husband’s secret lover:

She says she knows you
And she’s got the right address
She’s talkin’ crazy
So I didn’t catch the rest
She wouldn’t tell me
Just what her name is
There’s one thing for sure
Boy, you’ve got trouble at the door

I tried to tell her
That you’ve been out of town
She seems to know that
But she still won’t calm down
I even mentioned that it was business
She tells me it was more
Boy, you’ve got trouble at the door

Tell me she’s crazy
Tell me she’s wrong
Say that she’s mistaken
Say that you were strong
Tell me she’s lyin’
Then tell me one thing more
Tell me that’s not trouble at the door

This is a great song which should have been a career making record.

Bob McDill and Jim Weatherly contributed ‘Fire In An Old Flame’s Eyes’, a fine ballad about yearning for an ex, with regret for the path not taken replaced by a rekindling of that early passion. ‘Guess Who’s Back In Town’, written by Ernie Rowell and Dave Lindsey, is an up-tempo tune bewailing an on-and-off relationship. ‘Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind’ is a determinedly positive song about moving on after a breakup.

‘You Always Take Her Memory Out On Me’, written by R C Bannon, is another excellent emotional ballad, about dealing with the overpowering shadow of her partner’s ex:

I’m not the one who lied to you
Made you fall apart
I didn’t find someone else
And leave you in the dark
I’ve tried my best to heal the wounds and ease your misery
Then you turn around and take her memory out on me

How long before you let go of who let go of you?
How can you be blind to all her faults,
Then find fault in everything I do?

This album should have made Donna a star. Perhaps being on Atlantic was the problem, and a label with greater influence would have helped. Donna retired into obscurity, only emerging years later as a bluegrass singer-songwriter. I like her current work, but this is still my favorite of her albums. It does not appear to be available on iTunes, but used copies of the CD can be found cheaply. It is highly recommended.

Grade: A+

2 responses to “Album Review: Donna Ulisse – ‘Trouble At The Door’

  1. Ken May 4, 2018 at 9:13 am

    Although some of the blame can be directed toward the record label for Donna’s lack of success other factors were at play. 1991 was ground zero for the “Hot Country” movement primarily fueled by Garth Brooks explosive success the previous year. Nashville record labels smelled money so they all increased their roster of artists. The prevailing philosophy seemed to be throw a lot of tonnage out there with the hope that something would work. Country radio stations were flooded with new releases yet their current playlists did not substantially increase in size. In other words the number of available slots stayed the same while new releases increased exponentially. So a lot of new music had no chance to be aired.

    Also the trend at that time favored male artists. Female artists that broke through were very few by comparison. That also worked to Donna’s detriment. During calendar year 1991 there were 30 number one country songs. Only three were by female artists – newcomer Trisha Yearwood, veteran Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton in a duet with Ricky Van Shelton. The only brand new female performer to score a song inside the top ten that year was Trisha Yearwood. (Although she had been recording since 1981 Pam Tillis notched her first top ten hit that year) Out of 91 songs that made it into the top ten in 1991 only 22 were performed by females (including groups & male/female duets)

    1991 was a tough year to be a brand new female country singer. Donna was one of many that got lost in the tonnage.

  2. Paul W Dennis May 8, 2018 at 7:26 am

    “When Was The Last Time” and “Trouble At The Door” both got quite a bit of airplay here in Central Florida but I don’t remember ever hearing “Things Are Mostly Fine”. I purchased the album on the strength of the title track and was surprised later to find that the singles had charted so poorly nationally. I really liked this album and kept hoping that someone would give her another chance

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