Singer and songwriter Donna Hughes makes her national debut with this very enjoyable album, Gaining Wisdom, produced by guitar legend Tony Rice and featuring a stellar cast of sidemen who include mandolinist Sam Bush, dobro player Rob Ickes and fiddler Ron Stewart, among others. The lineup might lead you to expect a relatively straightforward bluegrass album, but what you get is something quite a bit more complex -- a really quite modern country album played on acoustic instruments, some of the songs (notably a fun arrangement of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and the modern but old-fashioned "Where Are You Darlin'?") heading off into traditional bluegrass territory but many others exploring more contemporary country styles. Hughes' voice is lovely, she's a very talented songwriter, and the arrangements are wonderful -- the only thing one might complain about on this album is a certain emotional flatness in her delivery. When she sings "What I'm Looking For," it doesn't actually sound like she's been looking all that hard, and the hard-luck portrait "Bottom of a Glass" is sung in a strangely jaunty manner. Her affect seems just a bit off through most of the record, but it's still a very enjoyable listen and a promising debut.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson