Fans have dubbed Rhonda Vincent “the Queen of Bluegrass” — and deservedly so. She was the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA’s) Female Vocalist of the Year for seven years in a row (from 2000 through 2006) and continues to create, perform, and record excellent music. Vincent, a multitalented artist who sings and plays excellent fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, has dabbled into country other genres, but she is best known as a bluegrass gal.
That may be about to change. Vincent’s most recent release, Only Me, contains two discs — one bluegrass and one country — and while both are impressive, the country one really kicks butt. Vincent’s previous country efforts seemed a way to mainstream her music into the contemporary scene as compared with bluegrass’ purposeful old timeyness. This time Vincent more directly addresses the tradition of classic country music. Her vocals recall the best of work (depending on the song) by the greatest country singers. That’s not exaggeration or hyperbole. Vincent is that good. I dare anyone one to listen to the six songs on the country disc and judge otherwise.
For example, Vincent takes on Bill Anderson’s weeper, “Once a Day” and turns it into a Tammy Wynette-worthy woman’s obsessive cry for lost love. She offers Don Chapel’s “When the Grass Grows Over Me” and transforms it into a Patsy Cline-style heartfelt bar room/concert hall epic. And Vincent transmutes another Bill Anderson classic, the honky tonk “Bright Lights & Country Music”, into a distaff diatribe about the wilder side of life that Loretta Lynn would be proud to present. Vincent shines on the other three country selections as well, the self-penned sensitive tale “Teardrops Over You”, the gospel folk standard “Beneath Still Waters”, and the hard living testament ”Drivin Nails”. Her voice is more than just note-perfect, but captures the emotional truth of every song.
On the country disc, Vincent’s joined by fiddler Tim Crouch, acoustic guitarist Carl Jackson, steel guitarist Mike Johnson, drummer Lonnie Wilson, and a few other crack musicians. They are tight in the best possible sense. Their rhythms and flourishes make each song snap into place and highlight Vincent’s contributions. The musicians on the bluegrass disc feature Vincent and her band The Rage: fiddler Hunter Berry, Brent Burke on Resophonic guitar, banjoist Aaron McDaris, Josh Williams on acoustic guitar, and Vincent on mandolin. This is bluegrass. They take the high lonesome road and leave the drums behind.
Vincent can be plaintive, as on Don Peters’ mournful “I Need Somebody Bad Tonight”. She can be slick and quick, as on Jesse Daniel’s fast paced “Busy City”. And Vincent shows she can blend well with the men on two duets, the sweetly romantic and playful title tune sung with Willie Nelson and her and Daryle Singletary’s rendition of the George Jones/Melba Montgomery hit “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” done bluegrass style. The disc is consistently good.
The country disc reveals that Vincent may be “the Queen of Bluegrass”, but she is much more than that. On this, her 18th full-length release, Vincent’s tremendous talents are given the showcase to shine above genre labels and expose just how terrifically gifted a musician she is.