Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews: Rhonda Vincent - Only Me!

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGEWith the release of Only Me, Rhonda Vincent has done something unique for listeners at a time when many believe the line between Bluegrass and Country is blurring.

Not only has Rhonda produced a multi-genre release, she has attempted to separate the genres by marketing a Bluegrass CD and a Country CD under a single title.

While it seems that Rhonda wanted to give listeners two clearly independent CD’s, the project leans more towards, what I consider, a Traditional Country project with a few Bluegrass songs mixed in.

Like some, I was surprised when it was announced that the Queen of Bluegrass was going to be producing a Bluegrass and Country project and somewhat confused as to why the 2014 SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America) Entertainer of the Year would make such a stylistic statement. Was she going to try her hand at Country music once again? Was she looking to broaden her fan base and offer a wider array of music to those attending her concerts? On the other hand, was Rhonda simply looking to fill a niche that seems to be missing for some listeners?


"Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, are to be credited with delivering nothing less than what audiences have come to expect; and, in many aspects, seem to be at the top of their game."

-Rita Small, Prescription Bluegrass


At a time when artists record with studio musicians in lieu of their touring band, Rhonda Vincent wisely uses her strongest asset, The Rage, for the Bluegrass CD. The band consists of Hunter Berry (fiddle), Brent Burke (resophonic guitar), Aaron McDaris (banjo), Josh Williams (acoustic guitar) and Mickey Harris (upright bass).

It deserves noting that Williams and Harris earned the 2014 SPBGMA Guitar and Bass Players of the Year respectively. Throughout this project, The Rage gives listeners an impeccable display of why the band was just recognized as the 2014 SPBGMA Instrumental Group of the Year.
Besides the obvious distinction in the musical styles and instrumentation, when listening to Only Me I was struck by the difference in The Rage versus the performers used on the Country CD. While those on the County tracks are seasoned players Tim Crouch (fiddle), Kevin Grantt (upright bass), Carl Jackson (acoustic guitar), Mike Johnson (steel guitar), Catherine Marx (piano), Michael Rojas (piano), James Mitchell (electric guitar), and Lonnie Wilson (drums) there was an ease missing between singer and musicians. I believe the overall fluency which The Rage exhibits on their part of this project has be attained through countless hours spent on the road performing, practicing, and a familiarity that was noticeably absent in the tracks performed by the studio musicians.

For me, song selection is always a pivotal factor for the success of any CD and this is no exception for Only Me. When the single Busy City was released to radio for airplay, I was excited about the direction Rhonda appeared to be taking this project. Busy City is without doubt straightforward Bluegrass and, upon release, reminded the Bluegrass community why her unmistakable voice has earned her numerous awards, and continues to pack venues. Personally, I hoped that this was a precursor of what was to come with the release of Only Me. Although after hearing the project in its entirety, I must admit that I had my hopes up for nothing.

The second track, I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All), written by Larry Cordle and Lionel Delmore, was released as a single in early 2013. Although this is a solid song, and I have received numerous requests from listeners for airplay since its release, it was somewhat surprising to find a single released over a year ago being included on this project.

A top pick for me is the gospel number It’s Never Too Late. A haunting song, written by Haley Stiltner, that pulls listeners in to a meeting between preacher and inmate. Stiltner skillfully brings to life the ensuing conversation regarding the inmates’ concern over his eternal soul and the preacher’s assurance that one can find forgiveness at any time. After listening to the song, and knowing it sounded familiar, I looked to see what other group(s) may have released the song previously. I found that Next Best Thing, which includes Rhonda’s daughter, previously released the song and again, I wondered about why this particular song was included.

Another top selection for me is the duet We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds, which teams Rhonda with 90’s Country singer Daryle Singletary. Rhonda and Daryle’s voices blend into a sound that compares with those timeless duet singers from Country music’s bygone years. The success of this song keeping a Bluegrass sound is largely due to Brent Burke and the chilling work he does on the resophonic guitar.

The title track Only Me, which pairs Rhonda Vincent with Country music icon Willie Nelson for an up-tempo duet, could easily be released on a Country station and garner recognition. While this song has all the qualities of a Bluegrass song, thanks to The Rage, the moment I hear Nelson’s legendary voice the idea that this is a Bluegrass song is gone.

While I do not feel it necessary to review the Country CD, after all this is Prescription Bluegrass, Rhonda delivered the songs as well as any of today’s Country singers could. For me the performance does not prevail over many of the previously recorded versions and, in all honesty, I went back, listened to the original versions, and enjoyed them more. Rhonda may have fared better had she used original songs instead of trying to recreate classics.

Although Only Me may not be the Bluegrass project I was hoping for, it is not without merit. Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, are to be credited with delivering nothing less than what audiences have come to expect; and, in many aspects, seem to be at the top of their game. Time will tell if this endeavor will open the door for proclaimed Bluegrass singers to boldly incorporate other genres and have that effort be accepted or, as it always seems to do, reignite the discussion of what is Bluegrass and how far is too far.



1 comment:

  1. I found that there was not that much difference in the genres between the country CD, and the bluegrass CD. Overall , both discs had country leanings. Not a lot of mandolin from Rhonda, a waste of resources putting 2 twenty minute discs into a jewel case, rather than using 1 CD. Really found Rhonda's picture in a Shirt and jeans to be refreshing, Rhonda is a natural beauty, and most of her CDs have her looking a bit on the glamerous sex queen, which I just don't picture her as, she is a cute gal with a great bluegrass voice. Overall, a very good recording.


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