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Bluegrass Unlimited - Donna Hughes - Hellos, Goodbyes & ButterfliesDONNA HUGHES
Rounder Records

This is Donna Hughes’ fourth recording. Fifteen songs, and she wrote them all and is strongly backed by a large cast of top players, among them Scott Vestal on banjo, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Randy Kohrs (who on “Cut Your Losses” has the album’s most ear-catching solo) on reso-guitar, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle, and from her own band, Brian Stephens on some dynamic lead guitar.

Whether she is writing about longing for the (seemingly) untroubled life of a “Butterfly” as a solution to her problems or loneliness, or about missing her father and wondering if that’s him “Saying Hello” in various forms of natural phenomena, or about a husband finding a younger woman to soothe his “Mid-Life Crisis,” Hughes cuts right to the story with concrete language. Certainly there are a few scattered metaphors here and there. What songwriter can resist them? But, for the most part, she is refreshingly direct. Your car looked good in my driveway, she sings in “The Last Thing I Needed.” People on ferris wheels sometimes lose a shoe, she sings as she catalogues things you can lose in “Losing You.” I was the woman who picked up his clothes, she warns in “Mid-Life Crisis.” All simple. All direct. Moreover, she’s not afraid of odd forms in song construction, nor does she shy away from using modern images such as the Jerry Springer Show or Just For Men hair dye or lost golf balls to color her stories. That’s all to the good. We need more of that in bluegrass.

Near the end of the album is “Blackbeard,” a historic retelling of the pirate’s career, missing only the burning embers he used to tie in his beard. As far as I can tell, it’s the only bluegrass song about “Blackbeard,” and proves to be a highlight on an album of interesting and direct songwriting. (Concord Music Group, Inc., 100 N. Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.rounder.com.) BW