My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Rhonda Vincent

Predictions for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards

It’s early February, which means it’s time for the annual Grammy Awards telecast, airing this Sunday at 8pm on CBS. Look for performances from Eric Church and Miranda Lambert, plus winners in the Country and American Roots categories.

GiveMeBackMyHometownBest Country Solo Performance

Consisting of four former winners, who have proven perennial Grammy favorites, this couldn’t be a more predicable group of nominees. Miranda Lambert won the CMA Award so she has less of a chance of winning here, but really everyone has a very good chance of walking away with the trophy.

Should Win: “Give Me Back My Hometown” – The buzz surrounding The Outsiders coupled with the fact he’s never won a Grammy, should be enough to push him over the top.

Will Win: “Something In The Water” – With a win for “Last Name,” the Grammy voters proved they would award Carrie Underwood for just opening her mouth. She made quite a splash this year, so look for her winning streak to continue.

Little-Big-Town-Day-DrinkingBest Country duo/group performance

A banal group of mainstream fare, these nominees are far more flash than artistry. The Band Perry has the best song, but Kimberly’s feathery vocal, likely from screaming too much during the Pioneer era, hinders their Glen Campbell cover.

Should Win: “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” – Although it wasn’t much of a duet, Tim & Faith should be rewarded solely for McGraw’s artistic comeback.

 Will Win: “Day Drinking” – Miranda and Carrie won the CMA, which dramatically hurts their chances here. That’ll leave room for Little Big Town to swoop in and claim victory with their anathematic earworm.

10523141_295010450688997_7271262647762240217_nBest Country Song

A sentimental nod for Glen Campbell gives these nominees, which are otherwise tethered to mainstream fare, a bit more variety. He could very easily win on principal, which would be a wonderful thing to see.

Should Win: “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” – a win now for Campbell would indeed be wonderful, especially after all he’s been through.

Will Win: “American Kids” – Grammy song categories are always surprising, as the substantive ballad doesn’t always emerge victorious. Kenny Chesney’s hit is an offbeat choice, but crazier things have happened. If Chesney doesn’t win, I could see Eric Church easily taking this home.

12 storiesBest Country Album

The strongest of the country categories, with five worthy nominees, including two that should be duking it out to the finish.

Should Win: It’s a statistical dead heat between 12 Stories and The Way I’m Livin.’ Brandy Clark and Lee Ann Womack turned in stellar recordings that, in their own right, each deserve this award.

Will Win: The Outsiders – Eric Church’s wildly uneven fourth album has a buzz that cannot be ignored. It’s a good project, but nowhere near the artistic caliber of Clark and Womack’s sets.

UnknownBest American Roots Performance

I’m not as well versed here, but Rosanne Cash and Nickel Creek turned in valiant efforts and Alison Krauss is featured on a track.

Should Win: “Destination” – Nickel Creek came back together after nine years, bringing with them their artistic gains from solo and side projects. Their astounding growth shouldn’t be ignored. 

Will Win: “And When I Die” – I never bet against the obvious, Alison Krauss is featured here, but I could easily see Rosanne Cash taking this home as well. 

rosannecashBest American Roots Song

I’ve only heard Rosanne Cash’s track, and while good, it isn’t “When The Master Calls The Roll.”

Should Win: “A Feather’s Not A Bird” – I’d still give this one to Cash

Will Win: “Pretty Little One” – Steve Martin wins without even trying, so he has the edge here. Jesse Winchester, who passed away last year, could also claim the sentimental vote.

Rosanne CashBest Americana Album

All hail the might God that is Sturgill Simpson. Most were furious he wasn’t in the Best Country Album category, since his album has Country Music in its title, but its experimental nature makes it a perfect fit here. I haven’t been able to get into him (sacrilege of the highest order) but I can appreciate his artistry.

Should Win: The River & The Thread – Rosanne Cash’s impeccable ode to her family legacy is one of the year’s true masterworks 

Will Win: The River & The Thread – Cash has the name recognition to pull this off and it couldn’t be more deserved. But she isn’t Simpson, and that could hurt her, and everyone else in this category.

81Yyaq+5nDL._SL1500_Best Bluegrass Album

This is quite the substantive category, with at least three nominees that could emerge victorious.

Should Win: I honestly don’t have any idea

 Will Win: Only Me – Rhonda Vincent is the biggest name here, a fact that usually secures a win

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Top 20 Albums of 2014: A Hidebound Traditionalist’s View

Rosanne CashWe didn’t get a chance to run this before the end of the year, but we figured our readers wouldn’t mind reading Paul’s year in review a little late. — Razor X

1. Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread

This album came out fairly early in the year, and yet I was fairly sure it would be the best new album I would hear in 2014. Elegant and insightful would be the terms I would think best describe this album.

2. Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard

So timeless are the songs are the songs of Merle Haggard that even marginal talents such as Jason Aldean and Jake Owen couldn’t mess up the songs. If fact I would regard Aldean’s take on “Going Where The Lonely Go” as he best recording he’s ever made. This tribute album is largely composed of modern country artists (Toby Keith, Parmalee, Dustin Lynch, Kristy Lee Cook, Randy Houser, Joe Nichols, Jake Owen, Jason Aldean and James Wesley) with Merle’s son Ben thrown in for good measure and Garth Brooks on the physical CD available at Walmart. The two tracks by Thompson Square (“You Take Me For Granted”, “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room”) are given a playful reading and are my favorite tracks, but every artist keeps the spirit of the Hag alive with these songs.

3. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison – Our Year

The follow-up to Cheater’s Game dishes up another nice serving of real country music with more focus on newer material but with some covers including a nice take on the Statler Brothers classic “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You” .

4. Jerry Douglas – Earls of Leicester

An instant classic, this album is almost a theatre piece with various stellar musicians cast in the roles of the members of the classic Flatt & Scruggs lineup of the 1950s and 1960s, doing a program of classic Flatt & Scruggs material. Starring Jerry Douglas on dobro, Barry Bales on bass, Shawn Camp on acoustic guitar and vocals, Johnny Warren – fiddle, Tim O’Brien – mandolin, & Charlie Cushman – banjo and guitar. Johnny Warren is the song of longtime F&S fiddler Paul Warren.

5. Carlene Carter – Carter Girl

Carlene Carter pays tribute to her musical heritage with a classic collection of Carter Family tunes plus a pair of original compositions. These recording have a modern sound that differs from, but is true to, the spirit of the originals.

6. Ray Price – Beauty Is

I wanted to call this the best album of 2014 and if Ray had been in top vocal form I would have, but this is the swan song of a dying man who knows the end is but months away. The album is elegant and heartfelt, in many respects a valentine to his wife of many years.

7. Jeff Bates – Me and Conway

For as popular as Conway Twitty was during his heyday (think George Strait), he has been almost entirely forgotten. A tribute to Conway Twitty is long overdue and while I think a multi-artist album would be nice, if it has to be a single artist tribute album, there is no one better to do it than Jeff Bates, whose voice can sound eerily similar to that of Conway Twitty. The album is about half Conway Twitty songs and half new material including the title track. My favorite tracks are the title track, “Lost In The Feeling” and Jeff’s duet with Loretta Lynn on “After The fire Is Gone” .

8. Mandy Barnett – I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson

Mandy is a masterful singer, if somewhat addicted to slow songs. Don Gibson was a top-drawer song writer, as well as a soulful performer. This album, initially available as a Cracker Barrel exclusive is proof that when you pair great songs with a great singer that very good things can happen. Don’s been gone for over a decade so it’s nice to see someone keep his songs in front of the American public.

9. Ray Price – A New Place To Begin

I am mystified that the tracks on this album went unreleased on an album for so long. During the mid 1980s Ray Price and Snuff Garrett collaborated on a number of successful singles (some of which were used in movie soundtracks) plus some other songs. True, producer Snuff Garrett fell ill somewhere along the line and retired, but Garrett was a big name producer and you would think these would have escaped somehow. This CD features seven chart singles that were never collected on an album, and seven other songs that were never released on an album. Sixteen tracks from one of the masters most featuring more steel guitar than was common for Ray during this period .

10. George Strait – The Cowboy Rides Away (Deluxe Edition)

This album has some flaws including what sounds like auto-tune on some tracks and the standard issue of the album doesn’t warrant a top twenty listing since it has only twenty songs on it. The Deluxe Edition, however, plants you into the middle of a George Strait concert – twenty-eight songs on the two CD set plus the entire 40 song set on the concert DVD with some bonus features. George never did tour extensively and when he hit town, the tickets were expensive and sold out quickly so I never did get to see him live in concert. This set is the next best thing. While the studio recordings are better, this is still worth having.

11. Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer – Bass & Mandolin

This album is a little hard to characterize – it’s not exactly bluegrass, folk, jazz or classical music, but it is all of them and more on the ten featured tunes, all of them co-writes. Meyer plays piano on a few tunes but mostly plays bass. Thile shines on the mandolin. The listener exults in the magic.

12. Sammy Kershaw – Do You Know Me: A Tribute To George Jones

True, Sammy is a distant cousin to Cajun pioneers Rusty and Doug Kershaw, but Sammy’s musical muses were Mel Street and George Jones. Here Sammy pays tribute to George Jones and does it well. My favorite among the dozen Jones hits (plus two new songs) covered is “When The Grass Grows Over Me”.

13. Joe Mullins – Another Day From Life

Joe Mullins has been around the bluegrass scene for a while, but this album was the first of his albums I happened to pick up. It’s very good and I’ll be picking up more of his albums when I hit the bluegrass festival in Palatka, Florida on February 20.

14. Rhonda Vincent – Only Me

Half country/half grass but 100% excellent. I wish that Rhonda would do an entire album of western swing and honky-tonk classics. It was silly to split this up into two six song discs, but I guess that the ears of the bluegrass purists needed protection from the country classics. My favorite track is “When The Grass Grows Over Me” which was also my favorite George Jones song. Rhonda’s takes on “Once A Day” and “Bright Lights and Country Music” are also highlights.

15. Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’

It is good to see new music from Lee Ann. I don’t regard this as highly as I did her first few albums, but it is a welcome return to form.

16. Willie Nelson – Band of Brothers

Death, taxes and a new Willie Nelson album are the only things you can really count on seeing every year. This one is up to the usual standards, with Willie having written nine of the fourteen songs on the album.

17. Secret Sisters – Put your Needle Down

I actually liked their debut album better, but this one will appeal more to younger listeners. At this rate they won’t be a secret much longer. Buy it at Cracker Barrel as their version has two extra songs.

18. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

A lot has been written about this album, but the truth is that words really don’t adequately describe it. This album requires repeated listening.

19. Dierks Bentley – Riser

I like this album, but I keep expecting more of DIerks Bentley. “Drunk On A Plane” and “I Hold On” were the big radio/ video singles but I don’t think they were the best songs on the album.

20. Cornell Hurd Band – Twentieth Album

In some ways the Cornell Hurd Band is like Asleep At The Wheel, a very versatile band that can handle anything. Both are terrific swing bands but AATW leans more to the jazzy side while the CHB is more honky-tonk and more prone to novelty lyrics. All of their albums are filled with many and varied treasures.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2014

the way im livinIt’s not been the best of years for mainstream country music, but great music is still out there to be found if you’re willing to hunt it down. There was a plethora of great covers projects, including excellent offerings from Joey + Rory and Gene Watson, and a number of other fine records which just missed the cut in my top 10 selection.

10. Dave Adkins ‘Nothing To Lose
Classic high lonesome bluegrass from a singer with a big, emotional voice.
Best tracks: ‘I Can’t Even Walk’, ‘Don’t Pray That Way’, ‘Mistaken Heart

9. J P Harris & The Tough Choices – ‘Home Is Where The Hurt Is
Authentic retro honky tonk with some great songs.

Best tracks: ‘Home Is Where The Hurt Is’, ‘Truck Stop Amphetamines’, ‘Every Little Piece’

provoked8. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Provoked
Back on an independent label, Sunny Sweeney’s unbridled honky tonk with a modern twist is irresistible.

Best tracks: ‘You Don’t Know Your Husband’, ‘Backhanded Compliment’, ‘Sunday Dress

7. Fayssoux, ‘I Can’t Wait
A lovely mellow folk-country record.

Best tracks: ‘Mama’s Hungry Eyes’, ‘I Made A Friend Of A Flower Today’, ‘Golightly Creek’

6. Randy Travis – Influence Vol 2
The second instalment of Randy’s covers project, fortunately recorded before his recent health crisis was, unexpectedly, even better than the first one.

Best tracks: ‘Set ‘Em Up Joe’, ‘Are The Good Times Really Over’, ‘For The Good Times’

daylight and dark5. Jason Eady – ‘Daylight And Dark
Solid country music from a talented singer-songwriter I like more every tie I hear him. This was one of the year’s first releases, and it hasn’t lost its appeal for me.

Best tracks: ‘Whiskey And You’, ‘Liars And Fools’, ‘Late Night Diner

4. Rhonda Vincent – ‘Only Me
The bluegrass star offers a stellar selection of material. The packaging is a touch gimmicky, with two CDs in one packages, each containing just six tracks. One is billed as straight bluegrass, the other traditional country, but both are wonderful. My only criticism is that it would be nice to hear some new songs of this quality.

Best tracks: ‘I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All)’, ‘Teardrops Over You’, ‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’ (ft Daryle Singletary), ‘Beneath Still Waters

3. Jade Jack – ‘Off The Record
I was very impressed by fiddler/traditional country singer Jade’s debut album. Very much in the style of Amber Digby, this is packed full of heartbreak numbers, backed with fiddle and steel. It just squeezes in ahead of Rhonda thanks to the inclusion of original material.

Best tracks: ‘I Can’t Help It If He Can’t Stop Loving Me’, ‘I Had A Husband’, ‘I Can Bring Him Back’, ‘I’m Dynamite’

lucky2. Suzy Bogguss – ‘Lucky
In a year which saw a lot of fine tribute and cover albums, this was the best of the lot. Suzy’s beautiful readings of Haggard songs are exquisite. This record is just lovely. The sensitive vocal interpretations are backed by delicately stripped down arrangements which shows that less is more.

Best tracks: ‘If We Make It Through December’, ‘Sing Me Back Home’, ‘You Don’t Have Very Far To Go’

1. Lee Ann Womack – ‘The Way I’m Livin
I was disappointed by Trisha Yearwood’s return, when she only recorded six new songs. But Lee Ann Womack did not disappoint, with that exquisite voice wrapped around 13 excellent songs. ‘Chances Are’, my favorite, is sublime. She sounds thoroughly revitalised by her move from the major labels and hankering after radio play to Sugar Hill’s focus on artistry. The result is magical.

Best tracks: ‘Chances Are’, ‘Nightwind’, ‘Sleeping With The Devil

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Your Money And My Good Looks’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Staying Together’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘In a Perfect World’

perfectworldI’m not sure whether I’d call Shanachie a major label or not – it certainly is one of the big three when it comes to Irish/Celtic music, but however you chose to characterize the label, this album, produced by Brent Rowan, found itself issued on Shanachie, one of two Watson albums released on this particular label.

By the time this album was released in 2007, Gene had been bouncing from label to label for a decade since leaving Step One Records. In fact much of the output of the period (1998-2007) consisted of Gusto reissues of material taken from Step One albums and other material released on independent labels such as Broadlands.

Unlike previous albums, which never saw Watson other than as a solo vocalist, Watson entered new territory, recording six songs featuring guest artists (mostly as harmony vocalists rather than true duets) out of the eleven songs on the album. Also unlike recent albums, this album does not contain remakes of earlier Gene Watson hits, focusing instead on some old classic country songs, with some newer material mixed in.

While this album could never be described as innovative (a value-neutral term as innovation can be bad) or cutting edge, it is yet another example of a master craftsman applying his talents to a terrific set of songs.

The album opens with the old Hank Cochran classic “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me”. Released during the 1960s this recording would have been a major hit. This song is followed by Vince Gill harmonizing with Gene on the Harlan Howard’s “Let Me Be The First To Go”, a song initially recorded by the great Wynn Stewart. This song is a tearjerker in which Watson asks God to call him home first as he couldn’t handle life without his wife. Aubrey Haynie’s fiddle and Sonny Garrish’s steel guitar really standout on this track

“What Was I Thinking” follows next – this was not the Dierks Bentley hit of a few years earlier but a Skip Ewing ballad lamenting the breakup of a relationship.

“Today I Started Loving You Again” is one of Merle Haggard’s most famous songs, even though it was never a hit for the Hag (it was the B-side of “The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde”) although Sammi Smith had a minor hit with it. The song has been recorded many times, but never better than this version which features Lee Ann Womack’s harmony vocals, especially noteworthy on the repeat chorus.

Harley Allen and Tim Mensy penned the title track “In A Perfect World” , a song of a man who has reached bottom and is imagining life as it could be, not as it really turned out to be. Joe Nichols harmony vocals provide the proper shading for this very desolate song:

In A Perfect World It Never Rains on Saturday
In A Perfect World I Wouldn’t Hate The Holidays
I’d Sleep Just Like A Baby and Have One Down The Hall
You’d Still Be My Girl, In A Perfect World

Tim Mensy also contributed “She’s Already Gone” and “This Side of he Door” (co-written with Shawn Camp). “She’s Already Gone” is just another good song about a relationship that is already dead except for someone actually leaving, but “This Side of The Door is really good. Guest vocalist Mark Chesnutt has some solo lines on this song, which Chesnutt originally recorded on his What a Way to Live album released in 2004. This songs rocks a little harder than is customary for Gene.

It is hard to image that “Together Again” was the B-Side of “My Heart Skips A Beat” for Buck Owens never wrote a better song. Buck’s A-side spent seven weeks at #1 but so many DJs flipped the record that the B-side also spent two weeks at #1. Rhonda Vincent guest on this song, the only true duet on the album, an a harbinger of more collaborations to come. In my opinion, this is the standout track on the album.

Another Tim Mensy song “I Buried Our Love” was released as a single although I never heard it played on the radio. It has a strong lyric and should have received at least some airplay.

Connie Smith is one of the few country singers on a par with Watson in terms of being a master vocalist. I think this song was first recorded by Point of Grace but I doubt that many would consider this rendition in any way inferior to the original. I would like for Connie’s voice to have been more prominently featured.

The album closes with yet another Tim Mensy song, “Like I Wasn’t Even There”. This song sounds more like the stuff currently played on the radio (only sung better) than like classic country. The storyline of this ballad is one of a man encountering his ex and seeing her behave as if he didn’t exist.

Reaction to this album at the time of its release varied although all reviewers considered it a good collection of songs sung by an excellent singer, while docking it stars for not pushing the boundaries of the genre. In my humble opinion when an album is this good, I don’t care whether or not it breaks new ground.

From this point forward Gene would feature more duets – his next Shanachie album would feature actual duets with Trace Adkins and Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss providing harmony vocals on a track.

Grade: A

Gene Watson interview revisited

Gene WatsonIn 2009, I had the opportunity to interview Gene for the now quiescent http://www.9513.com after the release of his A Taste of The Truth album.

***

PWD: I read recently in an interview that was done on another website concerning your interest in automobiles. I won’t rehash that territory, but being a fan of autos, do you have any particular favorites among the racing circuits – either CART, Indy, or NASCAR?

GW: Well, I watch drags. I like NHRA and I like NASCAR, too. I’m a John Force fan – the whole team in the drag racing field. I’m a huge fan of Carl Edwards. I like all types of racing. But NASCAR and drag – NHRA – would probably be my favorites [PWD note: as of 2011, Gene still owned and operated a body shop].

PWD: I’ve noted that some of the European labels have done a good job of getting some of your older recordings back in print. I have no idea who Hux Records is, but they became my favorite label when they started reissuing some of those old Capitol albums of yours. How did that come to be?

GW: I don’t know. You know, that was negotiated through Capitol Records. Unfortunately, I don’t own the masters. If I did, they would be available through me… Hux has been real good to put these selections together. They’re usually on a dual album set. The people that are fortunate enough to find them, they tell us how proud they are to have them back because a lot of those songs are out of print. You can’t buy them any more, so it just kind of gave them a new life when Hux came back with them.

PWD: Are there any plans for any of your MCA, Epic, or Warner Brothers cuts to be reissued?

GW: Yes, in fact I’m planning on going in the studio as quick as possible and starting to redo all of that stuff. Bring it back with better quality and all that and still keep the original Gene Watson feel on it. That’s one of our definite plans for the future, and hopefully within the next few months. [PWD note: this project was released as The Best of The Best – Twenty Five Greatest Hits in 2012. Gene used the original arrangements and as many of the original musicians as he could find – a definitive A+.]

PWD: I’ve seen recently that some of your recordings are available on the website for Tee Vee Records, King Records, Gusto – those labels. Are those new recordings or are those reissues of some of the older stuff?

GW: They’re reissues of the recordings from Capitol and Step One Records…

PWD: I thought it’d be interesting to maybe get you to discuss some of the recordings of the past. Would you mind?

GW: Okay.

PWD: Let’s see how it goes. I’m going to ask you first off about my absolute favorite Gene Watson recording – and there are about ninety-five others that are in second place – but the one that just really grabbed me when I first heard it was “The Old Man and His Horn.” It sounds like there should be a story behind that one.

GW: Well, there is. The same guy [Dallas Harms] that wrote “Paper Rosie” and “Cowboy’s Don’t Get Lucky All the Time” for me wrote that song and it’s been an extremely difficult song to follow through with. The recording was a little bit different because of the horns. We had trouble tracking them in studio – we laid down all the tracks at Bradley’s Barn here in Nashville – and when we recorded, we had trouble getting the horn on the track, so what we did was to lay down all the rest of the tracks, even including my vocal. Then, after we sought out the horn player that we wanted to use, we found that we couldn’t use trumpet, it was too brash. By the time we found what we wanted to do, we came back up to Sound Emporium – Jack Clement’s recording studio – and we went in and we put it on. Actually, what that is is a flugelhorn – it’s a little bit more mellow and everything.

PWD: I was wondering about that, it didn’t quite sound like a trumpet to my ear, but I don’t have a classically trained ear.

GW: Yeah, we tried trumpet, but it was too shrill, too brash, and cutting too hard. So we thought on it and looked around and done some research and everything and we wound up using a flugelhorn on it. Of course, you know, I can’t hire a horn player just to travel the road with me just to play one song, so it automatically became a thorn in my side as far as reproduction on stage. So what we did was, at that time I had my steel guitar player get an attachment to put on his steel guitar and we would do that horn part on the steel. It did work pretty good for a while. We had a lot of requests for that song and I appreciate you liking it.

PWD: It’s my favorite, although I must admit I’ve liked everything you have recorded. I remember first hearing, I guess it was around January or February of 1975, a song called “Bad Water” that I don’t think did a whole lot, but the follow-up, which I think was also originally on Resco, was “Love In The Hot Afternoon.” That was a great record and very different from what anyone else was recording at the time.

GW: “Bad Water,” that was a song that was originally out by Ray Charles’ background singers The Raelets. I decided to do it up country and believe it or not, that was the first song I ever had that got in the national charts. That got Capitol Records’ attention and when we re-released “Love In The Hot Afternoon” on Capitol they signed me to a long-term contract and that song turned out to be a giant for the year 1975.

PWD: I remember it well. It seemed to be on the air all the time in the area in which I live, which is Orlando, Florida. And it seemed like it was getting quite a bit of airplay on stations that weren’t country radio stations.

GW: Yeah, it was a good song for me.

PWD: … Do you have any particular favorites among the songs you’ve recorded?

GW: I’ve always had the freedom to pick and choose all of my material myself and it seems like to pick one as a favorite would be like picking one of your kids. .. There’s something about all of them that got my attention that I like. I’m not saying that all of them came out as favorites, but there was, anytime I recorded a song, there was something about it that I appreciated. “Farewell Party” is by far the most requested song that I’ve recorded, but I still like to do “Got No Reason Now For Going Home” and “Paper Rosie” and “Fourteen Carat Mind” and all that.

PWD: I think “Farewell Party” was your first #1, going to the top on Cash Box. If I recall correctly, that was a Lawton Williams song.

GW: Yeah, it was.

PWD: And it seems like years before your record I remembered hearing Little Jimmy Dickens do it.

GW: There were several people that had recorded it. Waylon Jennings, for one. Billy Walker and George Jones recorded it as had a lot of other artists.

PWD: I guess it took your touch to make a hit out of it though.

GW: I guess so. Because it’s sure been a good one for me.

PWD: It has. That and “Fourteen Carat Mind” are songs you still hear country bands performing all the time.

GW: That was a #1 hit in 1982, “Fourteen Carat Mind” was. I’ve been extremely fortunate and I owe all the thanks to the fans out there, and of course you guys who play the music. I try my best to record the best material I can and then it’s up to the folks whether it hits or not.

PWD: Do you have any songs that you recall that were offered to you first that you passed on that later became big hits?

GW: Oh yeah. Oh Lord, I heard “The Gambler” before Kenny Rogers did it. “The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time.” There’s been a lot of them, but that doesn’t mean that these songs would have been hits for Gene Watson. I mean they were hits for the people that recorded them, but there are Gene Watson hits and then there are other people’s hits and a lot of times it’d be like another artist recording “Farewell Party.” There were a lot of them before me that didn’t make it. When I recorded it, fortunately for me, it did. That’s kind of the trend that you have to look at when you’re considering material to record. You need to be careful and pick songs that you think are right for you.

PWD: One of the later hits that you had that I really liked, and haven’t been able to find it on CD, was “Don’t Waste It On the Blues.” That was a little different for Gene Watson.

GW: Yeah, it was a little uptown swing thing, almost modern jazz. I love that kind of stuff. I’m a lover of that type of music and it was a great song for me. Best I remember, I think it was a Top Five song.

PWD: …Did you ever have a song that you recorded that you just thought, “This has hit written all over it,” and then it stiffed for some reason or another?

GW: There have been several like that. In fact, I try to have that attitude every time I go in the studio, thinking that I’ve got a hit. You know that a lot of them are more capable of being hits than others, but that happens quite occasionally.

PWD: One that struck me that should have been a big hit that wasn’t, was a song you did titled “Carmen,” which I think was on your first or second Epic album.

GW: Yeah, that was a big song. In fact, that’s still a real big song overseas. When we were in Ireland and England and Scotland, the people over there just love that song and we always get requests for it when we go over there, but the title I think hurt the song a little bit in being confused with the old song of Marty Robbins’ called “Carmen.” Not that his was bad, but it was a hit and every time everybody saw the title they automatically thought that I had covered Marty’s song and that hurt it a whole lot.

PWD: Another Epic song I thought should have been a hit was “Honky Tonk Crazy”, a song local bands here in Florida often cover.

GW: Great song. That was my last album for Epic Records, and yeah, I thought it should have been a hit too. I really did. You can look down in that album and I was extremely proud of that whole album. I think everything in that album was really fantastic. Of course, it was produced by Billy Sherrill. I just thought it was a good album. I thought we should have got more response. I’m not sure we got all the help from Epic Records that we deserved, but for some reason or another, who knows why, it didn’t quite make it as good as we thought it would.

PWD: Were your parents musical people?

GW: My whole family was musical.

PWD: So you grew up listening to country music? Perhaps other forms of music ?

GW: Gospel, country, country gospel, and blues. I used to sing the blues and everything, so yeah, my whole family was musically inclined.

PWD: Who were your favorite artists when you were growing up?

GW: Oh I don’t know, I listened to all of them. Boy, back then they had the Top 10 on Sunday and I loved Lefty Frizzell. I thought he was fantastic, and Webb Pierce, Carl Smith, Faron Young. When Hag come in to play, oh it kind of ruled everything else out.

PWD: I’m not sure I’d agree with you there, but I liked all those names that you mentioned.

GW: Well I don’t mean ruled it out, I’m just talking about the new…I think Merle Haggard was more of an extension of Lefty Frizzell. I always loved Lefty, I loved his smooth approach. I liked the way he recorded things, and Ray Price, what can you say about him? I had a lot of favorites and it would be hard to pick one of them.

PWD: How about among the younger artists?

GW: I think one of the best artists out there is a guy by the name of Joe Diffie. I think he’s one of the finest vocalists that you’re going to find out there. My good friend Joe Nichols is a fantastic artist. There are several of them out there that I really, really admire and I appreciate what they do. There’s more of them out there that I don’t appreciate, but there’s some of them that’s got great talent and they’re for real.

PWD: I remember about a year or two ago you opened a show for Brad Paisley, didn’t you?

GW: Yes.

PWD: That must have been a little different experience with the type of audiences and venues he plays.

GW: My thing is my thing and I do it no matter who I’m working with, or opening for, or closing for or whatever. We never plan a show. I always hit the stage and the band, the only way they know what I’m going to do next is the way I introduce it to the people, and it was fun, it really was. I think the world of Brad. He’s a great artist and it was a real pleasure getting to work with him, but you know we do what we do and he does what he does and we all try to be successful at it.

PWD: … Any plans for perhaps a duet album with one of the leading female singers, say Rhonda or Alison or someone like that? I think that would really come off well.

GW: Well I think that a duet album is a possibility and the most likely duet partner, I would say at this time, would be Rhonda, if she would accept, and I think she would because we’ve both been on the same page as far as that goes and who knows, we might put that together. We’ve both talked about it. [Note: it happened!]

Album Review: Irene Kelley – ‘Pennsylvania Coal’

pennsylvania coalPennsylvania-born Irene Kelley is one of the finest songwriters around. A decade on from her excellent Thunderbird album she is back on record in her own right. She wrote all the songs with a variety of collaborators, and all have pretty melodies which showcase her pure, beautiful voice. Produced by Mark Fain, the music is in that overlap between acoustic country and bluegrass, and is beautifully played.

The opening ‘You Don’t Run Across My Mind’ is a thoughtful song about someone who the protagonist can never forget despite the passage of time. Darrin Vincent sings harmony on this attractive tune. It is co-written with Peter Cooper, as is the even prettier ‘Feels Like Home’. The latter has bluegrass’s Dale Ann Bradley and Steve Gulley on backing vocals and some lovely fiddle lines from Stuart Duncan (who plays throughout). A cold rainy day in Nashville brings reminders of Irene’s Pennsylvania birthplace, whose weather is remembered with less fond nostalgia than many songs about childhood:

You can take a trip but you can’t go back
Too many times I’ve heard that
It’s prettier in clouded memory
Just today a north wind came
Tapped my shoulder
Brought the grey
And a chill I know by heart came over me

Feels like home
Though I never felt at home there
And I know that the winters were too long
Like the wind against the shutters
In a town I used to know
Any time it looks like rain
Feels like home

‘Pennsylvania Coal’ (written with Thomm Jutz) is an atmospheric story of the Pennsylvania coal country where Kelley’s immigrant grandfather was a miner, and later a farmer. Its honesty and emotional insight rivals some of the great coalmining songs from Kentucky and West Virginia.

Family is an important theme running through the album, with Irene’s daughters Justyna and Sara Jean contributing both with harmonies and songwriting. The record even closes with a bonus track, ‘You Are Mine, on which Kelley’s daughter Sara Jean sings the lead over her mother and sister’s trio harmony. Written by the three of them, it has a charming old fashioned feel.

The delightful ‘My Flower’ uses the traditional ‘You Are My Flower’ (which Irene sang as a lullaby for her children as babies) as its theme. It was written with Irene’s daughter Justyna, who also sings harmonies alongside Claire Lynch. Irene then segues into a few lines of the original song, accompanied by herself on autoharp, which is charming.

Lynch also sings background on ‘Angels Around Her’, about Irene’s relationship with her late mother, using her collection of angel-themed ornaments as the focus of the song. Dale Ann Bradley sings harmony on the brooding ‘Sister’s Heart’, a heartfelt tribute to Irene’s beloved sister, which she wrote with Jon Weisberger. Bradley is also present on the idealistic ‘Garden Of Dreams’, inspired by Kelley’s daughters, which is a beautiful and poetic ballad.

Trisha Yearwood sings harmony on the graceful waltz ‘Better With Time’, a mature love song (written with Peter Cooper and Justyna) about the way love matures and grows, with a delicate stripped down arrangement.

Another outstanding song, ‘Breakin’ Even’ (written with Mark Irwin) takes a bleakly moving look at the pain of a breakup. ‘Things We Never Did’ is full of tender regret at lost chances, with its wistful look at what was “nearly a dream come true”. Carl Jackson’s harmony and Jeff Taylor’s tasteful accordion add the perfect finishing touches to the arrangement.

Rhonda Vincent sings a close harmony on the quirky upbeat ‘Rattlesnake Rattler’, in which part of a dead snake is incorporated into a guitar.

This is a lovely sounding record, and one filled with moving songs, beautifully sung.

Grade: A

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Only Me’

onlymeAlthough she is primarily known as a bluegrass artist, Rhonda Vincent has moved back and forth between bluegrass and country a number of times over the course of her career. She’s done bluegrass albums and she’s done country albums, and she’s done albums that blended the two genres. This time around, instead of hybridizing the two styles, she has released a collection of twelve songs, six of which are bluegrass, and six traditional country numbers. In its physical form, the album was released on two discs, which seems a little odd when all twelve songs could easily fit on one.

Both Willie Nelson and Daryle Singletary appear on the album as Rhonda’s duet partners. Interestingly, both appear on the bluegrass part of the album. Willie, who has had a hand in almost every musical style over his long career, is not particularly known for bluegrass, but he sounds right at home singing the title track with Rhonda. Singletary lends his vocals to a remake of “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds”, a 1963 hit for George Jones and Melba Montgomery. One could argue that this one really isn’t bluegrass, but that would be nitpicking. Vincent and Singletary stick close to the original version and while this rendition doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it does give a deserving song a crack at reaching a new audience.

Although I’m a huge fan of Rhonda’s bluegrass recordings, on this particular album, the country songs are where she really shines. The country half of the album kicks off with her original composition “Teardrops Over You”. The rest of the songs on the album are remakes of country classics — with plenty of steel guitar that will keep purists happy. She bravely tackles “Once A Day”, and though she does a good job, nobody can sing this song like Connie Smith. I like her take on another Bill Anderson number — “Bright Lights and Country Music” better. She pays homage to Emmylou Harris on “Beneath Still Waters” and to George Jones (again) on “When The Grass Grows Over Me”, my favorite song on the entire album, and then kicks up her heels on the closing track, a barnburner called “Drivin’ Nails” which was a hit in 1946 for both Floyd Tillman and Ernest Tubb.

There are no surprises here, no real artistic stretches or groundbreaking moments, just some great bluegrass and country music. Sometimes that’s enough.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘Christmas Grass: The Collection’

christmas grassThis two-disc compilation of the best tracks from a series of three Christmas Grass albums released in 2002, 2004 and 2007 respectively comprises equal parts instrumentals and vocal tracks, and mixes the reverent with the fun/nostalgic side of the season. Most of the material is fairly well known, but the impeccable, cleanly played arrangements and excellent vocals make these versions a welcome addition to your Christmas playlists.

Dolly Parton gets things going to a bright and cheery start with her perkily irresistible reading of ‘Christmas Time’s A-Comin’’, backed by the harmonies of Dailey & Vincent. The duo also back up Russell Moore on the briskly cheerful ‘Christmas Time Is Near’.

A charmingly nostalgic look back at Christmases past in Tom T Hall’s likeable ‘Oh Christmas Candle’ is attractively sung by the trio of Jamie Dailey, Barry Scott and Doyle Lawson. Rhonda Vincent is warm and tender on Amy Grant’s Southern-themed ‘Tennessee Christmas’, while the Larkins take on a bluegrass version of Alabama’s ‘Christmas In Dixie’, which is quite nice.

Larry Sparks lends an unexpectedly wistful melancholy to ‘I Heard The Bells Ring On Christmas Day’ (with a lyric comprising a Longfellow poem), which I liked very much. My favourite track is the most downbeat one, ‘Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho’, about a man facing his first Christmas alone, sung with a gentle sadness by Ronnie Bowman with supporting harmonies from Darrin Vincent and Sharon White.

John Cowan provides some variety by contributinga sultry soul-style vocal on ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’, which works surprisingly well with the bluegrass instrumentation.

On the religious side of things, Dailey & Vincent sing a quietly reverent and beautifully harmonised version of ‘Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem’, set to a simple guitar and mandolin backing. This must be one of their earliest recordings together. Sonya Isaacs sounds lovely on ‘Mary, Did You Know?’, while Sarah Jarosz is pleasantly soothing on ‘One Bright Star’.

3 Fox Drive get two tracks, both rather forgettable: ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’, which I usually find boring anyway.

Approximately half the tracks are instrumental versions of well-known Christmas tunes (the first of the three albums this compilation draws on was all-instrumental). I was initially a little disappointed by this, even though they are all flawlessly played, but they make for contemplative interludes. My favourite is a gently melodic performance of ‘What Child Is This’ (the Renaissance tune ‘Greensleeves’), featuring Alison Krauss on fiddle and Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, which is quite lovely. The stately melody of ‘Silent Night’ (one of my favourite carols) is also very fine, while a bouncy ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ is fun.

This is a very tasteful bluegrass collection, leaning more to the mellow and contemplative sides of Christmas than to revelry. I would recommend it to all fans of bluegrass and acoustic music at this time of year.

Grade: A

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

it's all relativeLeaving Arista might have marked the end of Pam’s commercial heyday, but it led to a taking stock and artistic resurgence which began with a reflection on her roots. As a youngster Pam Tillis had wanted to separate herself from her father’s legacy, hence her brief unsuccessful foray into pop music. But as a mature adult her respect for her father’s remarkable legacy as both artist and songwriter led to her recording an entire tribute album to him in 2002, when he turned 70. The depth of his catalog is revealed by the fact that not only did Mel write every song on this album, half of them on his own, but Pam had to leave many more on the shelf. Some were hits for Mel, others were songs he wrote for others. This album was Pam’s last hurrah on a major-related label, on Sony imprint Lucky Dog.

I love the outrage of ‘Unmitigated Gall’ (a top 10 for Faron Young in 1966), where Pam tells an ex in no uncertain terms just how she feels about his nerve coming back around now. This is definitely one of my favourite tracks. Catchy and confidently performed by Pam, it was a canny choice for the album’s lead single and just a few years earlier could easily have been a hit single all over again. By 2002, however, the tide had begun to turn in earnest, and it was far too country for country radio, failing to chart.

This attitude rises to new heights with the snarling declaration of hatred and ‘Mental Revenge’ (a top 20 for Mel himself in 1976 but better known for renditions by Waylon Jennings and Linda Ronstadt). Pam’s version is sultry and bluesy, and all her own.

Another highlight is the understated yet deeply emotional take on ‘Detroit City’, which brings out the melancholy of the song’s depiction of homesickness and failure with a barely concealed desperation underlying the vocal.

The charming ‘A Violet And A Rose’ is beautifully realised by Pam, with the help of very pretty trilling harmonies from Dolly Parton and a delicate acoustic arrangement. The original was Mel’s first chart single in 1958, and the much-recorded tune also gave its co-writer Little Jimmy Dickens his first top 10 hit in eight years in 1962.

‘Not Like It Was with You’ is an excellent lesser-known traditional country number about the after-effects of a breakup, which I enjoyed greatly. ‘Goodbye Wheeling’ is another fine relatively obscure song (a top 20 for Mel) which really suits Pam’s voice better than Mel’s. Delbert McClinton guests on harmonica.

‘Heart Over Mind’ (‘#3 for Mel and #5 for Ray Price) is transformed from a traditional shuffle to a sophisticated ballad. It is beautifully sung, with Emmylou Harris on harmony, and works well on its own merits, but the melody is barely recognisable slowed down so drastically.

Four tracks were co-produced by Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson. He duets with Pam on an entertaining ‘Honey (Don’t Open That Door)’ (best known as a chart-topper for Ricky Skaggs); Trisha Yearwood and Rhonda Vincent sing close harmonies. The regretful western swing ballad ‘Burning Memories’ (a top 10 in 1977) is another delight with a delicately judged vocal and very retro arrangement, mixing traditional steel and fiddle with Nashville Sound backing vocals. The jazzy ballad ‘So Wrong’ is very much in the sophisticated later style of Patsy Cline, for whom Mel wrote it with Danny Dill and Carl Perkins, complete with a cameo by the Jordanaires. While it’s not my personal favourite sub-genre of country music, Pam sounds really good on this. It was the second attempt at a single to promote the album. Honky tonk classic ‘I Ain’t Never’ was one of the biggest hits for co-writer Webb Pierce, and is the only one of Mel’s own chart toppers to be included. Pam’s version is bouncy and entertaining but comes across as a little shallow emotionally, although I enjoyed the arrangement and instrumental work.

There are only a couple of duds. The singalong ‘Come On And Sing’ is a weak song featuring a children’s chorus, but it was a nice touch to include Mel on one track. I was bored by the very jazz ‘Emotions’. It had been a hit for pop and country artist Brenda Lee as a teenager, and has nothing to do with country music, although it does show the range of Mel Tillis’s talent.

Pam produced the bulk of the set alone, with help from Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson on a a handful of tracks. The result is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Pam’s most traditional album, and a worthy tribute to a truly great singer-songwriter whose contribution to country music has sometimes been overlooked. Yet while it is always respectful, Pam puts her own stamp on many of the songs, not completely reinventing them, but definitely interpreting them in her own way. It is a highly recommended purchase; luckily used copies can be found very cheaply.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Timeless’

Timeless

Timeless

By 2005 Martina McBride’s music had seemingly progressed further and further away from her country roots. She showed she had not forgotten those roots by recording a classic covers album. Tt was received enthusiastically by her fans – in fact she achieved her highest ever first-week sales with this release, and the album was ultimately a platinum seller despite poor radio support.

The prospect of one of the finest and most naturally gifted country singers of her generation tackling great songs with mostly more traditional country arrangements was mouthwatering. There was also an exceptionally generous number of tracks – the standard US edition boasted 18 songs, with four added tracks on the European version. The vocals, as expected, are impeccable, and the beautifully realised arrangements are reverent recreations of the originals – but that is really the main criticism that the album faces – some critics complained that Martina was too faithful to the original versions and brought too little new. Martina had co-produced some of her earlier albums, but produced this one solo.

The lead single was Lynn Anderson’s signature song ‘Rose Garden’, which made it into the top 20 for Martina. This was probably a poor choice as it is one of the more dated sounding tracks with an efficient but somewhat anonymous vocal, and a timeless sounding ballad with more emotional weight would have been a more comfortable fit for Martina’s fans and country radio; my feeling is that this single choice set the tone for the album’s under-performance at radio., which was unfortunate.

The second, and much better, single was a beautiful version of ‘I Still Miss Someone’, with Dolly Parton harmonising. Unfortunately I think the poor showing of ‘Rose Garden’ meant radio had no enthusiasm for another cover, and it peaked at #50, but had this been the first release, I suspect it would have done better.

Another highlight comes with the beautiful, measured melancholy of Martina’s version of the Haggard classic ‘Today I Started Loving You Again’, where she brings out the sadness of the song’s emotion, and does succeed in making it her own (and entirely convincing). This is one of the finest moments of Martina’s career from an artistic viewpoint, and really deserved wider dissemination. ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ and Tammy Wynette’s ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own’ are also exqusitely done with sensitively interpreted vocals and subtle interpretations.

A pensive ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ recalls the Nashville Sound with its dated backing vocals but lovely steel in the arrangement. Martina’s emotional vocal is one of her best performances, but this is a case where fidelity to the original version was unwise (because the strings overwhelm it towards the end).

The very authentic steel-heavy treatment of the Hank Williams classic ‘You Win Again’ is the most traditional Martina has ever been, with an arrangement identical to the original. What she does bring of her own to the performance, is a sensitive, believable vocal which works well.

Martina brings some personality to a perky ‘I’ll Be There’, backed up by Dan Tyminski and Rhonda Vincent. ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ (the third single) is confident and sassy but lightweight compared to Loretta Lynn’s original. Similarly, ‘Once A Day’ is fine, but not as good as Connie Smith’s peerless original and Martina does not convince the hearer of her emotional meltdown here. ‘Pick Me Up On Your Way Down’ and a brisk take on ‘Thanks A Lot’ also sound a bit too upbeat for the material.

‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’ isn’t bad but feels a little characterless vocally. ‘Heartaches By The Number’ is more successful, sung with great energy and characteristic harmonies from Dwight Yoakam. ‘Satin Sheets’ boasts another excellent performance from Martina.

‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’ (one of the less remembered songs today, it was a massive hit in the 50s for Hank Snow, staying at #1 for over 20 weeks) is done well, with a bright, liquid vocal and attractive melody. ‘Make The World Go Away’ is nicely done (but pales compared to the most recent version of the song by Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss).

Smoothly and sweetly sung, Buddy Holly’s ‘True Love Ways’ is rather reminiscent of some of Patsy Cline’s more sophisticated pop work from her later career; it seems rather a shame, in retrospect that Martina didn’t pick one of Patsy’s signature songs because I feel they would have suited her really well.

The European release included four bonus tracks. ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ has a very pretty piano-led arrangement and gentle, melodic vocal. An understated take on ‘Crying Time’ loaded with steel is very fine indeed, and I also enjoyed Martina’s version of ‘Take These Chains From My Heart’. The cheating song ‘Walk On By’ rounds out the selection with another fine performance.

Lack of originality aside, this album features great songs sung extremely well by a very fine singer, and is well worth catching up with, but get the European release if you can for the added material.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent and Gene Watson – ‘Together Again’

Rhonda teams up with one of the finest country singers of all time to sing a classic country duet on the Opry in 2007:

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Good Thing Going’

While 2006’s All American Bluegrass Girl wasn’t quite up to par with her previous work, Rhonda Vincent recovered nicely with her next project. Released in January 2008, Good Thing Going is a more eclectic set of songs than we’d heard to date from Rhonda, with elements of traditional folk, Western swing and contemporary country offered up alongside the standard bluegrass. The project was co-produced by Rhonda along with her brother Darrin. Her road band The Rage is also featured on the album, which reached #1 on the Top Bluegrass Albums chart and produced two non-charting singles.

The opening track “I’m Leavin'” is one of five tracks on the album written by Rhonda and is reminiscent of some of the lesser known songs in Dolly Parton’s catalog, such as “If You Need Me” and “I’m Gone”. It was released as a single but did not chart despite the excellent vocal performance by Rhonda and fiddle-playing by Stuart Duncan. The next track, the Western swing flavored “The World’s Biggest Fool”, is a far cry from bluegrass but Rhonda pulls it off with gusto. The wedding ballad “I Give All My Love To You” is exquisitely performed and produced but it is one of the least “grassy” songs here, despite the duet vocal from fellow bluegrass star Russell Moore of the band IIIrd Tyme Out. No complaints here, but hardcore bluegrass fans may have been expecting something different. Those traditionalists should be pleased, however, with the title track, which features more traditional instrumentation and high-lonesome vocals.

The most traditional bluegrass song in the collection is a spirited cover version of Jimmy Martin’s fast paced “Hit Parade of Love”, which is possibly my favorite song on the album, though “Scorn of a Lover” is also in contention for best track. The latter features a bluegrass arrangement but the lyrics owe more to traditional country and it sounds like something that Patty Loveless would have nailed on one of her nineties albums. Dottie Rambo’s “Just One of a Kind” is also a nicely done number that should please bluegrass traditionalists.

Rhonda’s albums usually contain at least one religious song. “I Will See You Again” fills that slot this time around. It’s definitely not bluegrass, but it’s a very touching story about an elderly woman who is about to bury her husband but who has faith that she will see him again soon.

Given its close relationship to bluegrass and country, it’s perhaps logical that Rhonda would choose to include some music of Celtic origin on her albums. Ironically, however, the traditional Irish air “The Water Is Wide” is stripped of most of its Celtic elements, and thus, the tune is this album’s biggest stretch. Featuring a guest vocal from Keith Urban, the song is very pretty but is also somewhat bland. I’ve always liked this song and was looking forward to hearing Rhonda’s take on it, but disappointingly, it comes across as an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, a la Alison Krauss. I highly doubt that was the intent, but the track is one of Rhonda’s rare missteps. The album closes with the self-penned “Bluegrass Saturday Night”, which describes the hectic lifestyle of a road musician.

Though not quite as strong as Back Home Again and the excellent The Storm Still Rages, Good Thing Going is nonetheless an enjoyable collection and that is worthy of inclusion in any country or bluegrass fan’s collection.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent and Rebecca Lynn Howard – ‘The Angels Rejoiced’

Abum Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘One Step Ahead’

One Step Ahead was Rhonda’s 2003 release for Rounder and the first of her albums to really showcase her skills as a songwriter. As always, Rhonda is accompanied by a fine cast of supporting musicians including such aces as Aubrey Haynie (mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Ronnie Stewart (banjo), Stewart Duncan (fiddle) and brother Darrin Vincent (bass).

The album opens up with “Kentucky Borderline”, a fine breakdown composed by Ms Vincent and Terry Herd. You could describe this one as a train song in the finest tradition of Hank Snow, Jimmie Rodgers and Roy Acuff. The great vocal harmonies on this track are supplied by Jamie Dailey and brother Darrin.

“You Can’t Take It With You” is a gentle ballad from the pens of Curtis Wright and T.J. Knight about a love possibly about to disintegrate slowly.

I’ll give you my love
For the rest of my life
But I want to make sure you know
You can’t take it with you when you go

This song was released as a single to radio, reaching #58.

“One Step Ahead of The Blues” is another Vincent & Herd composition, an up-tempo tune featuring Alison Krauss on harmony vocals. This song probably should have been released as a single. Instead it was the second song on a CD single of “If Heartaches Had Wings” (a song not on this album) released in 2004.

Another Vincent/Herd composition is “Caught In The Crossfire” a rather sad story of divorce as seen through the eyes of a child

I’m caught in the crossfire
Of a world that’s so unkind
I love ‘em both but I can’t choose
Which one to leave behind

“Ridin’ The Red Line” is the song of a truck driver’s homecoming. Another Vincent/Herd composition, the song is noteworthy for the fine mandolin work by Aubrey Haynie with augmented mandolin fills by Cody Kilby.

Webb Pierce, June Hazelwood and Wayne Walker share the songwriting credits on an oldie, “Pathway of Teardrops”. This song has been recorded by many artists, but this version is very reminiscent of the Osborne Brothers recording of the song some years earlier.

The great female vocalist Melba Montgomery supplied “An Old Memory Found Its Way Back”. While Montgomery wasn’t a bluegrass artist, I’ve found that her songs lead themselves to bluegrass interpretations. This is a great ballad sung to perfection by Rhonda Vincent.

I don’t know much about Jennifer Strickland but she sure can write a pretty ballad, this one titled “Missouri Moon” about a love that has come to its end.

Who ever thought I’d be so blue
As I cry beneath that old Missouri moon

As I asked in a prior review, what would a bluegrass album be without a religious song? Much poorer for its absence, so Rhonda has chosen the old Stoney Cooper and Wilma Lee classic “Walking My Lord Up Calvary’s Hill. No version will ever replace the Stoney & Wilma Lee version in my heart, but Ms. Vincent’s version comes close, with Darrin Vincent contributing an excellent guitar solo and harmony vocals.

Another religious song follows, this one penned by Becky Buller, “Fishers Of Men”. This song is performed a cappella by Rhonda Vincent with Darrin Vincent, Mickey Harris and Eric Wilson providing the harmony vocals. This is my favorite track on the album.

Cast your nets aside
And join the battle tide
He will be your guide
To make you fishers of men

Molly Cherryholmes composed the instrumental “Frankie Belle”, the only tune on the album to feature Rhonda’s own mandolin playing.

The album closes with a short rendition of “The Martha White Theme”, a tune long associated with Flatt & Scruggs, whose portion of the Grand Ole Opry was sponsored by Martha White for decades.

One Step Ahead is a very entertaining album and shows Rhonda as a fully realized artist. I’d give it an A. The strength of this album’s songs is demonstrated by the fact that six of these songs would be reprised in her very next album Ragin’ Live.

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Is The Grass Any Bluer?’

Album Review – Rhonda Vincent – ‘All American Bluegrass Girl’

Released in 2006, All American Bluegrass Girl captured Rhonda Vincent at the height of her fame. A self-produced set, it features three songs either written or co-written by the singer and peaked at #1 on the Bluegrass album chart and #43 on the Country album chart.

Of note beside the music is the somewhat off-beat cover art, which came about after Vincent decided to forgo the glamour shot and try to act sexy. The cover image somewhat sets the tone for the project, as it’s just a little bit beneath the level of Vincent’s enormous talent.

But there are still some good moments. The excellent self-penned title track leads the album and unlike anything Vincent recorded prior, it details her life-story in song. In three minutes, Vincent perfectly captures the feeling of being one of a handful of female superstars within the bluegrass genre:

All my life they told me,

‘You’re pretty good for a girl

Some day you’ll play the Opry

just like Sonny, Bob and Earl’

I’m livin’ dreams I never dreamed

Mom and Daddy, they taught me right

To be an all American bluegrass girl

who’s singin’ here tonight

Another standout is Honey Brassfield’s “Heartbreaker’s Alibi,” a duet between Vincent and her hero, Dolly Parton. Led by Vincent’s impeccable mandolin picking, the tune details a wonderful story about a woman’s pain after catching her man cheating.

The other duet, Bobby Osborne, Peter Goble and Brian Vincent’s “Midnight Angel” is very good and the inclusion of Osborne as a guest vocalist gives the album an added texture never mind fulfilling a childhood dream of Vincent’s to sing with him. When first listening back in 2006, I wasn’t terribly accustomed to Osborne’s voice, and while his twang is an acquired taste, it adds an indelible magic to the song.

Also excellent is “Rhythm of the Wheels,” Al Wood’s chugging train song placing Vincent as an outcast, living on a locomotive, hoping she isn’t caught. The song succeeds because of the coupling of Vincent and The Rage’s tight harmonies with Charlie Cushman’s banjo licking. But the exuberant energy of “Rhythm of the Wheels” is what really helps it stand out, and cements its place as my favorite song on the whole project.

Unlike any record Vincent released before it, All American Bluegrass Girl takes risks with song selection and dives into subjects she hadn’t really touched upon before. “God Bless The Soldier,” the other self-penned tune, is heavy and clunky and while Vincent means well, the execution never quite came together for me.

On the contrary, Byron Hill and Mike Dekle’s “’Till They Came Home” works really well as a support the military song, and tells a multi-generational story that, in the chorus, gets to the heart of families emotionally effected by war. The effectiveness in storytelling, plus the understated quality of Vincent’s vocal make it my second favorite track on the album:

And as the headlines rolled

Every mother prayed

Every father lay awake

The whole night through

Every brother bragged

Every sister cried

Every hometown across this land held on

Till they came home

All American Bluegrass Girl also bustles with a few gospel songs. The most interesting is “Jesus Built A Bridge To Heaven” do to its funky dobro and acoustic guitar backed accompaniment. Connie Leigh’s “Don’t Act” is a standard Vincent bluegrass rocker, with fiery mandolin and banjo behind the cautionary tale of honoring the bible and being a Christian. It’s a fairly heavy-handed message, and won’t please everyone as it wears its faith too heavily on its sleeve. On the other hand, Val Johnson’s “Prettiest Flower There” is a beautiful story of seeing angels at a funeral but the steel guitar and fiddle mixture throughout bogs down the heavy arrangement.

The album concludes with the instrumental “Ashes of Mt Augustine,” later reprised on Your Money and My Good Looks, and a cover of Roy Acuff’s “Precious Jewel,” sung with her band, The Rage. They turn “Jewel” into a harmonious and classic bluegrass stunner and it works really well to close the album.

Overall, All American Bluegrass Girl is a mixed bag, poking holes in the consistently stellar bluegrass work Vincent was recording for Rounder in the last decade. She moves too freely between bluegrass and acoustic country and the results are good but not great. The religious material and songs about the military are often too heavy handed and polarizing, but there are some moments to treasure, namely the title track and duet with Parton.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind – Rhonda Vincent – ‘At The Corner of Walk and Don’t Walk’

Album Review – Rhonda Vincent and The Rage – ‘Ragin’ Live’

Recorded at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, MO, Ragin’ Live marks Rhonda Vincent’s first live album and first time she’s used her band The Rage on a recording. Released in the spring of 2005, it’s a “greatest hits” album of sorts as she and the band run down their most popular tunes with a palpable fiery energy and immaculate musicianship that comes from performing in front of a crowd.

The set opens with an introduction by Hank Janney, a Bluegrass DJ from Gettysburg, PA before the band rips into a spirited version of “Kentucky Borderline.” Excellent cover tunes follow, such as “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin,” and their versions of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Jimmie Rogers’ “Muleskinner Blues,” Flatt and Scruggs “So Happy I’ll Be,” and Bobby Osborne’s “Bluegrass Express.” Each bring something new to the respective tune and because of their consistently high quality, it’s difficult to pick a favorite.

As with her studio recordings, Vincent (and this time the band) shines brightest on the up-tempo material. Lyrical tunes such as “One Step Ahead of the Blues” and “Martha White Theme” are great, but the full breathe of their prowess as a band is best displayed on the incredible instrumental tracks. Hunter Berry’s fantastic fiddle lick at the start of the old-time country “Me Too” gives way to a fabulous mix of fiddle, mandolin and dobro while “Road Rage” makes excellent use of Kenny Ingram’s superb abilities with the banjo. “Son Drop In” is another fine showcase of Barry’s fiddling, and “Frankie Bell” makes sufficient use of Vincent’s other talent as a first rate mandolin picker.

I always felt the decision to pack the seat full of high-energy numbers works well because it gives the recording a sunny and upbeat disposition even if the lyrical content is decidedly somber. The record beams with the band’s enjoyment of playing and singing together and that combination bring a welcomed relaxation to the proceedings.

But it also works in favor of the slower numbers, which stand out against the rip-roaring backdrop. It’s been well documented that Vincent is one of the greatest country and bluegrass vocalists to ever live, and she shows that here.

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