Nashville songwriters Donna Ulisse & Jerry Salley recently had the opportunity to thank Del McCoury in person for recording their song "Butler Brothers". The song is a tragic and chilling story song about two brothers fighting on different sides in the Civil War and has been included on the highly anticipated new album The Streets of Baltimore by the Del McCoury Band. Inspiration for the writing team came from a document Ulisse's husband acquired out of a courthouse in Virginia about his great-great-great-great grandfather fighting against his own brother.
The songwriting team caught up with Del in late September at the International Bluegrass Music Awards in Raleigh, North Carolina where Ulisse was nominated for Songwriter of the Year and Salley had one of his tunes nominated for Song of the Year. The Del McCoury Band was nominated for Entertainer of the Year.
Where the Del McCoury Band’s last two projects—2012’s tribute to Bill Monroe (Old Memories) and 2011’s collaboration with the Preservation Hall Band, American Legacies —were built around themes, The Streets of Baltimore shows McCoury and his award-winning band at their most relaxed and free-form. “I just put together a group of songs that I liked,” says Del. “And then we got into the studio and tried to make them sound good!”
Still, it’s not hard to see how the new album is shaped by the musical memories acquired and lessons learned starting back in McCoury’s Baltimore days. For one thing, as a reminder of how tightly entwined bluegrass and country music were at the time, there’s a healthy dose of songs from the country repertoire, including the title track (a 1966 country hit for Bobby Bare), “Too Many Rivers” (a crossover hit for Brenda Lee in 1965 and recorded by dozens of country singers at the time) and “Once More With Feeling,” a massive hit for Jerry Lee Lewis that reminds us that McCoury and his band were called on to perform when "The Killer" was honored in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's American Music Masters series a few years ago. And while pop and jazz fans know “Misty” as an entry in the “Great American Songbook,” Del and the boys give an affectionate nod here to country singer and humorist Ray Stevens, whose banjo-driven version of the song scraped the top of the country charts nearly 40 years ago.
Donna Ulisse is showing us her roots with her latest project, Showin' My Roots. Ulisse has been nominated for the IBMA Songwriter award for two years in a row. Her latest work includes more of her excellent songwriting and music on two of the tracks.
This is a diverse collection of songs, in tempo and sentiment. The Stanley Brothers (cousins of Ulisse's husband) are represented in songs penned by Carter (the sprightly "How Mountain Girls Can Love") and Ralph (the resigned "lfThat's The Way You Feel"). Ulisse honors two heroes with her spin on Merle Haggard's version of Dolly Parton's "In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad." "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," made famous by Tammy Wynette, shows her feisty side, as does Loretta Lynn's "Fist City." She serves up a gorgeously wistful take on Hank Locklin's "Send Me The Pillow You Dream On," and an earnestly prayerful"Wait A little Longer Please Jesus."