Rhonda Vincent’s latest album underlines her status as one of the best of today’s female bluegrass singers. It is part of what has proved to be a very consistent body of work over the course of her career. The main innovation this time is that Rhonda’s road band, the Rage, takes center stage with her for the first time, providing every aspect of the music we hear. It almost goes without saying that the musicianship is impeccable. The band’s fiddle player Hunter Berry takes on co-production duties with Rhonda, a task borne for the last couple of albums by Rhonda’s brother Darrin, who is now concentrating on his own career with duo Dailey & Vincent.
One of my favorite tracks is ‘It’s Crazy What A Lonely Heart Will Do’, a lovely duet with the Rage’s guitar player Ben Helson. The traditionally-styled country ballad, written by former Highway 101 lead singer Paulette Carlson with Nashvile writer Jimbeau Hinson, is perfectly suited to Rhonda’s bell-like voice as the lovelorn protagonists attempt to ease their loneliness in another’s arms. Helson’s pleasant and listenable voice is not quite in the same league as Rhonda’s, but he complements her well. I also really like Pete Goble’s ‘I Can Make Him Whisper I Love You’, another take on love lost as she wistfully fantasizes about a long-gone ex still thinking of her as she still does of him, but is forced to admit it is only in her imagination.
My outright favorite, though, is a delightful and committed bluegrass cover of the much-recorded country classic ‘Stop the World (And Let Me Off)’, which I like more every time I hear it. Rhonda’s voice also sounds particularly beautiful on 70s country-rockers Poco’s ‘Crazy Love’, perhaps a more unexpected choice of song, but one which she manages to make fit in well with her sound.
The title track, penned by New Zealand’s Donna Dean, offers a word-picture of a woman in the process of driving away from a neglectful and unloving husband one moonlit night. “He cannot criticize her if she ain’t around”, she notes bitterly, reflecting that they would have stayed together “if only he’d respected, loved and cared for her”. Although the overt message of the song is that there’s no going back and her future is a new life, in fact the lyric focuses more on what has passed than what may lie in store for the protagonist.
Rhonda co-wrote three of the songs, the best of which is the gospel ‘I Heard My Savior Calling Me’, a genuinely compelling first-person account of conversion at a country church revival. This track also features some of Rhonda’s finest singing, and traditional gospel bluegrass harmonies from the band. ‘What A Woman Wants To Hear’ is a pleasant but slightly old-fashioned sounding love song paying tribute to the kind of man who says and does all the right things. ‘Last Time Loving You’, the opening track, sounds beautiful musically, but is rather forgettable lyrically.
The fast-paced ‘Heartwrenching Lovesick Memories’, in contrast, has an interesting lyric but is taken at too brisk a pace for the lyric to make an emotional impact on the listener; I simply can’t detect any heartwrenching (or even mild regret) in the vocal delivery. It gives the impression of having been picked in order to allow the band the opportunity to stretch out and show off their impressive licks, and this may be the downside of not using an external producer. A better balance is achieved with the love-on-the-road ‘Anywhere Is Home As Long As You’re With Me’, which has some dazzling instrumental passages, but the best showcase of the band’s musicianship comes with a version of Chubby Wise’s brilliantly entertaining composition ‘Eighth Of January’.
The album ends with a slow, serious and really rather beautiful acappella performance of the hymn ‘When I Travel My Last Mile (He Will Hold My Hand)’, starting with Rhonda solo, gradually joined by the boys from the band.