Donna Ulisse – Hard Cry Moon

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Listening to Donna Ulisse’s new album “Hard Cry Moon” is like
stepping into a 3-D diary.  As soon as the music starts with “Black
Train,” we find ourselves waiting by the railway tracks with a forlorn
wife bidding farewell to her erring husband, leaving behind the lights
of home to begin life again in another zip code.  Then we get to step
into the thrilling pages of a blossoming romance (“We’re Gonna Find a
Preacher”) and then spend an idyllic afternoon sitting under the shade
of Papa’s tree (“Papa’s Garden”).  Never one who can be faulted for
writing two dimensional narratives, Ulisse has a way of engaging our
ears, our eyes, and our hearts conterminously with her tales, often spun
with utmost perspicuity and with heartfelt realism.  After a series of
bluegrass Gospel records and a country covers album, Ulisse has returned
to her first love:  bluegrass music.  As she succinctly puts it best in
the song “It Could Have Been the Mandolin:”  “It could have been the mandolin, ’cause bluegrass always stirs my soul.”
Though Ulisse is bluegrass music’s
treasure, she did not start off singing bluegrass.  In 1991, her first
dabble in commercial music was with country when Atlantic Nashville
Records released one of the most criminally overlooked efforts “Trouble
at the Door.”  Though now out of print, the record contains some of
country music’s finest gems including “Things Are Mostly Fine,” “Legend
in My Heart” and “My Broken Heart’s Breaking All Over Town.”  Six years
after being disillusioned by Nashville, Ulisse decided to listen to her
heart’s calling.  Teaming up with her husband Rick Stanley, they began
dabbling in their first foray into bluegrass music with the release of
2007’s “When I Look Back.”  And when the bluegrass community heard of
Stanley’s involvement, they began warming up to Ulisse.  This is because
Rick Stanley is the cousin of bluegrass immortals Ralph and Carter
Stanley. Ever since, Ulisse has been a bluegrass music’s mainstay,
perennially churning out some of the finest music for the genre.
Save for the traditional “Whispering Pines,” all of the tracks on
“Hard Cry Moon,” come by way of Ulisse’s pen, which she sometimes shares
with her hubby Stanley, Marc Rossi, and Jerry Salley.  While many
bluegrass records pay too much attention to the virtuoso playings at the
expense of the songs’ melodic structures, this is not the case here. 
“It Could Have Been the Mandolin” and “Ain’t that a Pity” are
ear-grabbing masterpieces.  They are catchy romps with infectious
choruses that make us want to sing along to and tap our feet to their
incessant and driving rhythms.  “The River’s Runnin’ Free” is to be
singled out for Rossi and Ulisse’s attention paid to details.  With
picturesque words that doesn’t just describe but paints with vivid
images, “The River’s Running Free” describes a baptism service by a
river.  Though it recalls Carrie Underwood’s #1 smash “Something in the
Water,” Ulisse’s vivid depictions win by a wide margin.

The ballads here are soul churners and they are not to
be missed.  The title cut “Hard Cry Moon” is an emotionally tortured
piece about a broken heart.  While “As Long You’re Together” is not an
airy-eyed fairy tale romantic flick.  Rather, it’s about a love that
still chooses to persevere after all the warts and pains.  In “Papa’s
Garden,” Ulisse not only takes us for a tour around her papa’s orchard,
she draws out from the garden heart enriching metaphors. Don’t let the
gentle strums of “I’ll Sleep in Peace Tonight” side track us from the
song’s mammoth message of how Jesus Christ renews us each day with His
grace.  In short, do your soul, your ears, and your eyes some good by
giving this disc a spin.  Our souls and our imaginations are so much
richer as a result of “Hard Cry Moon.”

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