2019 has been a solid year for independent bluegrass artists, with a number of veteran players like Donna Ulisse recording new material with a spectacularly youthful enthusiasm, but in Ulisse’s own Time for Love, we hear some of the most intriguing ballads and casual jams that the genre has produced all year long. From “When I Go All Bluegrass on You” to the reflective “Come to Jesus Moment,” rambling “Red Top Mountain Road” and concluding track “I’ll Never Find Another You,” Time for Love is a conceptual journey into the heart of a true bluegrass stalwart, and while Ulisse has recorded some dynamite material before now, she sounds notably refreshed and excited about the content that she’s singing in this most recent set of songs.
“Heart of Rosine” is designed almost exclusively around its vibrant string harmonies, while “I’m Not Afraid” and “My Whole World is Standing Still” seem a little more dependent on the structure of the verses than the other tracks here do, but all three compositions ultimately showcase the same attribute within Ulisse’s aesthetical profile – her tendency to make rhythm as much of a centerpiece as she does melodicism. In all of the songs on Time for Love, she’s splitting her focus between the swing of the beat and the actual substance of her lyrics, and in an era of American music that has seen artists of all scenes and styles moving away from such multilayered material, a record like this one is exceptionally fun to listen to.
“I’ll Never Find Another You,” “Seven Lonely Days,” the hesitant “Hi Lonesome” and thoughtful “When We’ve Got Time for Love” have all got incredible jam potential that could be exploited by Ulisse and the right backing band in a live setting, and something tells me that all four of these songs probably grew out of simple tunes devised amidst a lot of chemistry between the musicians in the room. Nothing about Time for Love feels forced or thrown-together; contrarily, I actually think that this is one of the more deliberately-defined LPs on the country/bluegrass/folk end of the spectrum available this autumn, which is a lot bigger deal than it might sound like it’d be on paper. If bluegrass really is experiencing a new renaissance, a landmark album of this sort could absolutely do a lot to advance and elevate the career of Donna Ulisse moving forward.
If you’ve never heard her work prior to this latest release, I definitely recommend starting off your introduction to Ulisse’s sound with her new record. She’s not hiding her showmanship in Time for Love, but to say that she’s flaunting more than she’s actually got would be an outright lie. Ulisse boasts a lot of muscle here, and while there are a lot of great artists making awesome bluegrass right now, I think that anyone who checks out songs like “When I Go All Bluegrass on You” and “A Little Less Gone” will understand why the lion’s share of critical attention has been fixed on this singer/songwriter and her amazingly warm harmonies.