Donna Ulisse’s Time for Love
Like a cool autumn breeze gusting through a solemn, empty field, the instrumental melody that greets us at the start of “Come to Jesus Moment” is only a small sampling of what’s soon to arrive in the wake of its cold salvo of string play. Unlike the complexly organized “Get on Home Boy,” “Come to Jesus Moment” takes a few seconds to find its shape, but once it does, it’s as important a track in Donna Ulisse’s Time for Love as any of the other twelve it’s joined by are. Ulisse doesn’t waste any time getting right to the guts of her groove-focused rhythm and rhyme in Time for Love’s first song, the aptly-titled “When I Go All Bluegrass on You,” and while she flirts with country themes in tracks like “Magazine Rack” and the folky “My Whole World is Standing Still,” there’s never any question as to what the driving force behind this LP’s aesthetics truly is. Listeners with an ear for bluegrass have a lot to dig through here, with every dimension of the music revealing a different element inside of this singer’s wonderful songcraft.
In “I’ll Never Find Another You,” Ulisse lets a rambunctious fiddle colorize her lyrics without ever relinquishing her spot in the center of the spotlight, and similar to what she does in “Heart of Rosine,” she has no problem balancing out her own singing with the other instrumental parts at all. There’s a great fluidity to this tracklist, with even the stampeding “Red Top Mountain Road” sharing a certain artistic core with more pensive numbers like “A Little Less Gone,” but I would stop short of calling Time for Love conceptual in nature. Indeed, there are shades of a progressive bluegrass sound in “I’m Not Afraid” and “Seven Lonely Days,” but by and large, these are songs that could be played out of order (and in any context, for that matter) and still feel real, raw and laced with an honest vulnerability. Ulisse’s younger peers should take a page out of her book in this respect; where others are content to commit to one specific formula in the writer’s room, this is an artist who follows her own narrative on stage and in the studio, and the work she turns in as a result is without a doubt far superior to what I hear out of the masses.
If the quiet swaying beat of “Hi Lonesome” doesn’t send chills down your back, the sterling strings of “When We’ve Got Time for Love” probably will, but no matter what your style of country-influenced bluegrass is, Donna Ulisse has you covered this year with Time for Love. Time for Love is getting one heck of a reception from the press at the moment, and though you’ll have to hear it on your own to decide what it’s really worth, I think I can get why so many critics and fans have been applauding its mighty melodicism recently. Good, clean bluegrass has become a scarce commodity in the late 2010s, but in an artist like Ulisse, we find a singer who is still clinging to some sense of tradition while growing with her artistry on a reliably consistent basis.