My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rick Stanley

Album Review: Rebekah Long – ‘Here I Am’

here i amBluegrass singer and upright bass player Rebekah Long from Georgia has a sweet, light voice, and considerable ability as a songwriter. Her skills are well showcased in her new album. Singer-songwriter Donna Ulisse, who has carved out a real niche for herself in bluegrass in recent years, produced the album, and she and Rebekah wrote most of the material.

The two women co-wrote ‘He’s Never Coming Back Again’, an understated ballad about the pain of lost love, and ‘Nellie Mae’, a pretty tune about an adoptive mother’s love.

The pair were joined by Ulisse’s husband Rick Stanley to write a further three songs. My favorite of these, and possibly my favorite on the album, is the doomladen story song ‘Hairpin Hattie’, whose ghost fatally haunts cheating husbands on the dangerous mountain road she died on herself 80 years earlier outrunning the cops after murdering her own:

She never beckons innocents
The pure of heart they drive on by
Her anger’s for the cheatin’ men
The ones that have a roving eye

‘Ain’t Life Sweet’ is a bright cheerful tune lauding old fashioned rural life, which makes a promising opener to the album, while ‘Sweet Miss Dixie Deen’ is an affectionate tribute to the late wife of Tom T Hall. Rebekah spent several years working for the Halls, and also includes a nice cover of Tom T’s song ‘I Washed My Face In The Mountain Dew’.

A more unexpected cover, but one which works surprisingly well bluegrass style is the sultry ‘Somebody’s Knockin’, the sole country hit for Terri Gibbs in the early 80s. Rebekah doesn’t quite have the forcefulness required to really pull off Merle Haggard’s ‘The Fightin’ Side Of Me’ – it’s pleasant to listen to but unconvincing. The Mel Tillis-penned, and much recorded. ‘Unmitigated Gall’ is more effective, and highly enjoyable. The final cover, Cheryl Wheeler’s ‘I Know This Town’ is a fond tribute to a home town.

The title track and ‘The MapleTree And Me’ are delicately pretty Donna Ulisse songs, the former a tender love song, the latter wistful and poetic. The closing ‘December’, written by Ulisse with Dennis Duff, is atmospheric and bleak

This is a very nice bluegrass album with much to recommend it.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Donna Ulisse – ‘Showin’ My Roots’

showin my rootsFor the past few years former country singer Donna Ulisse has been making a name for herself as a bluegrass singer-songwriter. I’ve enjoyed her music in that vein, but a small part of me hankered after the neotraditional country singer she started out as. Now she has combined the two sides to her music in a nod to her musical roots, re-imagining the country classics she grew up listening to, in a bluegrass setting, with a few bluegrass songs thrown in. The result is a joy to listen to.

Donna produced the record with acoustic guitarist Bryan Sutton. The band consists of some of the finest bluegrass studio musicians: Sutton, Scott Vestal on banjo, Rob Ickes on dobro, Andy Leftwich on fiddle and mandolin, and either Viktor Krauss (on most tracks) or Byron House on upright bass.

A pair of new songs bookend the album, both written by Donna with her husband Rick Stanley. The charming title track sets the mood and dwells on the influence on her of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, Dolly Parton and Carter Stanley. Fayssoux Maclean sings harmony. ‘I’ve Always Had A Song I Could Lean On’ is a fond reminiscence of a music-filled childhood.

Donna plays tribute to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette with confident, sassy versions of ‘Fist City’ and ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’, both of which I enjoyed very much. A thoughtful and convincing take on Dolly Parton’s ‘In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad’ acts as Donna’s nod to both Dolly and to Haggard, whose cover influenced this version.

Donna’s husband is a cousin of Carter and Ralph Stanley, and Donna’s version of the Stanley Brothers’ ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love’ is bright and charming. The finest moments on this album are the ballads. A beautifully measured version of Ralph Stanley’s deeply mournful ‘If That’s The Way You Feel’ is my favorite track. Larry Cordle and Carl Jackson add harmonies to this exquisite reading.

Almost as good, ‘Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missing Tonight)’, a Loretta Lynn hit written by Lola Jean Fawbush, is lonely and longing, with the gorgeous tone Donna displayed on her 1990s country records, and a very spare, stripped down arrangement. Absolutely wonderful.

Donna is sincere and compelling on ‘Wait A Little Longer Please, Jesus’, a favorite of her father. I also enjoyed the traditional ‘Take This Hammer’ (the first song Donna ever sang in public, as a small child) with guest Sam Bush sharing the vocals. A sweet and tenderly romantic ‘Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On’ is delicately pretty.

‘I Hope You Have Learned’ was written in the 1950s by Donna’s great-uncle Gene Butler, who spent a short period in Nashville working as a songwriter. It is a high lonesome bluegrass ballad whose protagonist is in prison for murdering a romantic rival, and wants to know if the spouse will be waiting on release. Donna twists the genders around but otherwise this is faithful to the original, recorded by Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe.

The only disappointment for me was Rodney Crowell’s ‘One Way Rider’, which boasts sparkling playing by the musicians, but although Donna tackles it with enthusiasm, it feels a little characterless despite John Cowan’s harmony providing some flavor.

This is one of a number of excellent bluegrass/country albums to emerge this year, but Donna’s beautiful, expressive vocals, which are at their best on this album, make this one not to be missed. Her interpretative ability means that she brings her own contribution even to the best-known songs, and this is thoroughly recommended.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Donna Ulisse – ‘All The Way To Bethlehem’

donna ulisse - all the way to bethlehemMost Christmas records lead towards celebrating secular cheer, generally recycling the same songs every other Christmas album includes. It makes a refreshing change when someone starts from scratch. Country artist turned bluegrass singer-songwriter Donna Ulisse has done it now, with a collection of songs she wrote herself to retell the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, each exploring the emotions of a different character. Everything is brought to life by Donna’s pure, crystalline vocals, backed up by sensitive, almost completely acoustic, arrangements which really defy genre.

The opening ‘I See The Light Of The World’ has a pretty melody and a hopeful feel which sets the mood for the story to be retold.

In the delicately pretty ‘You Will Be Delivered’ Donna plays the part of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, gently soothing Mary’s fears. Marc Rossi composed a beautiful tune for Donna’s lyric on this song, and also co-wrote the joyful ‘Elisabeth’ (about Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, during their respective pregnancies, with Donna playing the part of Mary). Andy Leftwich’s liquid fiddle is particularly notable here.

‘He’s Not Mine’ offers the point of view of Joseph, tenderly anticipating raising the child of God; this was written by Donna with husband and wife team Kerry and Lynn Chater, and is another beautiful track. Donna then duets with her husband Rick Stanley to represent Mary and Joseph on their journey ‘All The Way To Bethlehem’, also written with the Chaters. Rick is an unexceptional vocalist, but he is convincing enough here.

It is of course the innkeeper who declare ‘You Cannot Stay Here’, but offers them the stable instead. Donna’s reading of the innkeeper’s personality is a kindly one, and this pretty song was the inspiration for the whole project.

‘Let The World Wait For A Little While’ is a tender lullaby for the newborn baby Jesus, with a more classical feel to the accompaniment. Donna wrote it with her husband. ‘He Is Here’ is Gabriel again, announcing the birth to the shepherds.

‘I’m Gonna Shine’ is an ambitious attempt at interpreting the role of the star guiding the wise men to Bethlehem, which is unfortunately rather boring. Stars, being nonhuman, might lack personality, but I doubt that was the intent of what is the only track on this album that doesn’t really work for me, although the instrumentation is attractive.

The magi unwisely declare ‘We’ve Come to Worship Him’ to Herod – this song, written with Marc Rossi, has the drama and energy of the original story.

She closes with the shepherds celebrating ‘Morning In Bethlehem’ with a faint Celtic feel courtesy of Jon Mock’s penny whistle and concertina. It serves as a suitable reflection on the aftermath of the birth of Jesus, and a satisfying closing track.

The fairly slow pacing doesn’t vary much from song to song. The acoustic accompaniments provide a subtle backdrop for what is more of a series of religious meditations on the Christmas story than a conventional “Christmas album”. This is not the record to play at a Christmas party, or to get you in a festive mood. It is for quiet contemplation of the Christmas story and message, and it is entirely successful.

Grade: A