“Donna Hughes Gaining Wisdom is her debut CD on Rounder Records. The CD reveals an artist of tremendous depth and talent. From Hughes’ contributions to the project, that include writing 12 of the 14 songs on the project, Tony Rice’s masterful production and an all-star cast of supporting musicians, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive debut album.
Hughes’ song-writing skills have a unique and endearing quality about them. On the surface, they can seem deceptively simple and down to earth with a casual listen, yet upon closer inspection they are revealed to be a highly sophisticated and thought provoking commentary on life itself, with an inate ability to command the listener’s undivided attention. Drawing one to reflect on the many different joys, sorrows and challenges faced in life.
Vocally, Hughes is as talented as any in the game. From the opening track, to the closer, she sings with pure convicted emotion and talent. Much like Alison Krauss, Donna Hughes has a vocal quality that transcends the traditional boundary’s of the genre and should easily bring Bluegrass and Acoustic Music to a much larger audience. Along with her song-writing and vocal ability, Gaining Wisdom, features Hughes behind the piano. While not an instrument found in traditional bluegrass circles it fit’s in perfectly with the the flavor of the album and adds a new and unexpected dimension to the sonics of the project. It would be a sin not to mention Tony Rice’s significant contributions to Gaining Wisdom. Along with handling a bulk of the guitar duties on the record, Rice also produced the compilation. And this is where Rice’s true genius is displayed. Taking more of a “hands off” approach to the task of producing the project, allowing Hughes, the songs, the musicians and the sounds to take on a life of their own in the studio, it really comes through in the quality of the final product. The production on Gaining Wisdom shines the spotlight directly on Hughes… and She absolutely flourishes in it. Rice also assembled some of the best musicians in the acoustic field to add their special touch to the album. Rob Ickes (dobro), Sam Bush (mandolin), Rickey Simpkins (mandolin), Mike Bub (bass), Scott Vestal (banjo) Ron Stewart (fiddle) and Wayne Benson (mandolin) are a few of the key players that show up on the disc with Carl Jackson, Alison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Alecia Nugent, Sonya Isaacs and John Carroll among those contributing their talents to harmony vocals. An album like Gaining Wisdom, I suspect, would come to be considered a “landmark” album for many artists in the midst of a long and successful careers. For Hughes, a relatively unknown, to debut with a collection of songs and performances this impressive… it leaves me highly anticipating her next release.
Travis Tackett, Bluegrass Journal