It is unfortunate that the fledgling Giant label was the label chosen to break Rhonda Vincent into mainstream country music. Giant was one of Nashville’s many “flatfish” labels (it starts up, flounders around for a while and then disappears) and didn’t have the marketing muscle to promote Rhonda’s music properly. That notwithstanding, Written In The Stars is a very good album, well recorded with Ms. Vincent’s vocals front and center in the mix and a cast of supporting musicians comprised from Nashville’s A-List. Rhonda is in excellent voice and the album is well laid out in terms of tempo and style variations. The album was released in October 1993.
The album opens up with an up-tempo number, “What Else Could I Do”, which was released as the second single from the album. I am not sure why this song failed to chart as it has engaging lyrics and a memorable melody (supplied by Curtis Wright and Robert Ellis Orrall) and Rhonda nails the lyrics:
I wasn’t looking to jump into love
But I had no choice when your push came to shove
I guess I should not be surprised that I fell for you
Tell me, what clse could I do?
“Written In The Stars” follows. This song is a slow ballad, also from the pen of Robert Ellis Orrall. The lyric takes us to a place many of us have been:
I guess the love written ever so deep in my heart
Was not written in the stars
Another up-tempo romp, “Ain’t That Love” follows, this time from the pen of noted songwriter Kostas. This is one of my two favorite songs from this album. This song has more of a bluegrass sound and feel to it than most of the songs on this album.
Harley Allen penned “In Your Loneliness”, treated here as a slow ballad. Harley was a gifted songwriter, but this is just another song.
“Mama Knows the Highway” was a #8 single released in June 1993 by Hal Ketchum. Written by Pete Wasner and Charles John Quarto, the song fits Rhonda’s style well. This might have made a good single for Rhonda if Hal hadn’t gotten to it first. “When Love Arrives” is another slow ballad from the pen of Harley Allen. Again, in my opinion it’s just another song.
Up to this point the album had alternated fast and slow songs. The album now features two fast songs followed by a pair of slower numbers. “The Passing Of The Train” is courtesy of Jim Rushing and Gene Nelson. I like the song, and if released during the 1950s it might have made a good single but by 1993 it would have had no chance for airplay. Still, a good song is a good song:
As a little child, my thoughts ran wild, as I clung to Mama’s dress.
As the train grew near the engineer, waved my fears to rest
“I Do My Crying At Night” comes from the pen of the legendary Lefty Frizzell and one of his favorite co-writers Whitey Shafer. In my humble (or perhaps not so humble) opinion, this is the best song on the album. Arranged as a western swing number with fiddlers Randy Howard and Stuart Duncan really shining, Rhonda wraps her vocal chords around this number as only she can.
I do my cryin’ at night
To keep all my heartaches out of sight
There’s a hole in my sky and a big tear in my eye
I do my cryin’ at night
[sidebar] While I regard Rhonda Vincent as the best female singer in bluegrass, she’s even better at western swing and I would love to hear her record an entire album of western swing tunes.
The album closes with a pair of slower songs. “I’m Not Over You” was penned by Carl Jackson and Melba Montgomery (another female singer who didn’t receive the love from the country charts that she was due). Rhonda does a fine job with this song, which was released as the first single from the album.
The last song is from redoubtable songwriter Troy Seals, “If You Were Me”. Good song and a nice close to the album.
Neither the album nor either of the singles released from the album charted. Rhonda would issue one more album before returning to her bluegrass roots.
A couple of observations – I purchased the album was it was first released but I rarely heard either of the singles on local radio. While the singles released were better than much of the fodder pushed to radio those days, I don’t think she received much of a promotional push from her label. Moreover, I don’t think the label did her any favors by releasing a slower ballad as the first single. While Rhonda was a decent balladeer then, and has developed into an outstanding balladeer in the years since this album was issued, in 1993 she was at her best with the faster numbers where her natural exuberance shines through. After “I’m Not Over You” stiffed, I think radio gave up on her, not that they ever embraced this album.
It is tough to evaluate this album – on the faster songs she is definitely an A to A+ performer. On the slower songs she’s B to B+. I guess that makes this album an A-.
This assumption that Rhonda Vincent would have made it in mainstream country “if only” she’d had one of the better major labels behind her is just a guess, really. I can think of a whole bunch of country artists who flopped and who DID have a majors like Columbia/Sony, MCA, Mercury/Polygram etc. behind them: Bobbie Cryner, Joy White, Kelly Willis, Wesley Dennis.
And Rhonda’s label, Giant Records didn’t seem to have a problem getting hits for Clay Walker.
Sometimes it’s hard to see just why one artist has made it and another hasn’t, and the artists you mention were all exceptional talents. But lack of label support certainly can’t have helped Rhonda’s cause either.