Although inspired by the Biblical accounts of Christ’s birth, Donna Ulisse’s All the Way to Bethlehem is not a “Christmas album” in any conventional sense of the term. Rather, it is a dramatic story told in song—much like such other Bible-based musical productions as Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
In All the Way to Bethlehem, we listen in to a drama told through many voices, all of them resounding with wonder. There is Joseph, puzzled by circumstances, daunted by responsibilities, yet resolutely determined to do the right thing; Elisabeth, Mary’s much older cousin who also miraculously conceives a child; the compassionate but overburdened Innkeeper, who reluctantly tells the desperate young couple, “You cannot stay here.”; the Star of Bethlehem, beaming with its own importance; and, always and eternally, Mary, herself, who, while accepting the awful divine destiny of her newborn son, must in those first tender moments with him marvel, rejoice and dream as any mother would. It is a triumphant story vividly told.
Ulisse, who was nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2012 Songwriter of the Year award, wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on the album in league with fellow composers Kerry Chater, Lynn Gillespie Chater, Mark Rossi, Rick Stanley, Jerry Salley and Rick Lang. Widely praised both as a country and a bluegrass artist, Ulisse is one of the most expressive vocal stylists in music today.
All the Way to Bethlehem is set primarily to acoustic instrumentation. The featured musicians are Keith Sewell, praised for his work with Lyle Lovett, Ricky Skaggs, the Dixie Chicks and Jerry Douglas (he’s also the album’s producer); Andy Leftwich of Skaggs’ inimitable Kentucky Thunder band; Viktor Krauss, also long a mainstay in Lyle Lovett’s band; Rob Ickes, the award-winning dobroist and member of the Grammy-nominated bluegrass group, Blue Highway; Byron House, whose many achievements include membership in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy; John Mock, who counts James Taylor, Kathy Mattea and the National Orchestra of Ireland among his array of live and recorded credits; and vocalists Wendy Buckner Sewell, Ana Sewell and Rick Stanley.
All the Way to Bethlehem has a companion songbook and will be available in choral arrangements starting in 2013. Ulisse & her band The Poor Mountain Boys will also be performing the full album at Christmas shows during the season each year.
QUOTES AND REVIEWS:
~"This album is a masterpiece". -Kyle Cantrell-Host of SiriusXM's Bluegrass Junction
~"Donna Ulisse has long been recognized as one of Country and Bluegrass Music’s most distinctive talents. Her work for Atlantic Records in the 1990s went sadly unnoticed by radio, though her 1991 single “Trouble At The Door” was a song that should have been heard by the masses. Her Bluegrass work the past few years has fared much better, as she has netted several awards for her sterling efforts.
All that said, this may very well be her defining moment as an artist– and as a writer, having written or co-written each track on the disc. Though this will be marketed as a Christmas album, as the lyrical content inspired by the Christmas Story, it is a beautifully-crafted album with eleven songs of inspiration – regardless of what time of the year it is.
The album begins with the warm – yet light “I See The Light Of The World,” a well-written song that sets the stage for the Greatest Story Ever Told. Things stay on the homey side with the sweetly sung “You Will Be Delivered,” which – to me – ranks as one of the most beautiful Christmas-related songs to heve been written over the past few years.
The Faith of Mary and Joseph comes into play on the winning title cut, a duet with Rick Stanley, and Ulisse shows the vulnerable side of the couple on “You Cannot Stay Here,” a piece of advice that you know they heard on that fateful night.
Ulisse and producer Keith Sewell have created one for the ages with this collection. It definitely ranks as one of the more unique Christmas albums I have ever heard, and with Ulisse’s vocals – one of the best. Also worth mentioning are the talents of the musicians involved in the recording of the album. Whether it be the fiddle of Andy Leftwich, Rob Ickes on the dobro, the upright bass of Viktor Krauss, or the guitar work of Sewell himself, the talent stretches all around – which will make a more-than-worthy addition to your collection!"
-Chuck Dauphin/Music News Nashville
~"Ulisse has created a movie of the mind, a grand adventure told in song."
-Edward Morris/writer for CMT.com