Sunday, October 22, 2017

Donna Ulisse - Breakin’ Easy

Donna Ulisse - Breakin’ Easy  


Breakin’ Easy will likely end 2017 rating high as one of the best releases coming from the Americana or Bluegrass genres. Donna Ulisse’s vocal talents, songwriting skills, and astute choices for collaborators comes together on these dozen songs in an astonishingly complete way that makes this a solid listen from first song to last. There’s really no filler to speak of – she comes out of the gate with great energy, subverts a few expectations along the way, and never disappoints with pandering to the lowest common denominator. Purists of the form will find nothing disagreeable here as well; it’s apparent, on every song, that Ulisse has logged the needed time to be considered a genius of sorts with the style and she brings a clear vision for what she wants to accomplish to these tunes with the brilliant hand of Doyle Lawson in the producer’s seat. Breakin’ Easy is sincere, skillful, and relaxed.  
Well-known for her Bluegrass and traditional country flavor, Donna even indulges in some blues along the way. The influence of blues on “Without Trouble Please” lives in its lyric and, lesser so, vocal, but there’s other forces shaping this song as well. The predominant style working here is bluegrass and Ulisse is easily at home with the material. “Back Home Again Feelin’” is a tune even casual fans will relate to and its breezy familiarity never feels put on. It is definitely within the bluegrass tradition, but Ulisse’s take on the form isn’t fixed towards one end – this doesn’t sound like some ancient bluegrass song plucked from the distant past but, instead, sounds completely modern while still using a long standing form to communicate with its audience. “A Little Past Lonely” tips its hat to Ulisse’s honky tonk past, surrounding its changes and the melody is largely carried by the album’s unsung instrument, the fiddle. It has a suitably melancholy atmosphere without ever slipping into bathos and the fiddle’s tone dovetails neatly into Ulisse’s voice.  
“Baby Back Again” is one of the album’s more meditative ballads and gets a lot from another head turning Ulisse vocal. She takes her time setting up this song, following the arrangement, and maximizing the relationship between her singing and the superb backing she receives. “We Are Strong” is one of the album’s best cuts, if for no other reason, than the fact that it takes a positive message that might have risked corniness, treats it seriously, and instead turns into a wholly believable and rousing bit of songwriting. The lyrical imagery is especially pointed and helps make for a better song. “Where My Mind Can Find Some Rest” and the album’s finale “We’ve Got This Love Thing Figured Out” are very different numbers lyrically and, even, musically, but they make for an ideal final curtain when taken together for that very reason. The former is another tune suffused with weariness, but hope lives there as well. The latter brings Breakin’ Easy to a close on the same life and heart affirming note that has inspired much of the work. Donna Ulisse has turned in a winner here and she deserves every bit of the praise that’s her due for its excellence, and probably more well-deserved awards to come.  

Scott Wigley

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