(For HVBA) I was once helping with a satellite feed of the Kruger Brothers early one morning at Merlefest—the local television station was airing live segments from a hill overlooking the festival grounds—and Rhonda Vincent was the next up. The only problem was that her bus driver had gotten lost and wasn’t answering the phone. All the organizers were frantic, which was kind of funny, you know, having lost Rhonda Vincent and all. I noted that I had seen the bus in another parking lot on the way up, and they sent someone off running to set things right.
In the event, her driver got them to the right place with something like minutes to spare before the feed was supposed to begin. The sun was only just rising, and they had been travelling through the night, arriving at the festival something along the lines of minutes before, minutes that they spent sitting in the wrong parking lot. When they arrived where the filming was being done, some of the band members stumbled bleary-eyed out of the bus, one of whom was Josh Williams. And then, with seconds to spare, Vincent literally bounds from the bus, her hair tied quickly back in a pony tail, shaking hands, saying howdy, and asking which way to face. All business; savvy in every way.
She speaks the language of bluegrass musicians as well as she does television crews. She found her mark, asked if they wanted an intro (they did) and she counted it in and they were into a few bars of some very hot material. If your coffee hadn’t woken you up, she did.
In all, Vincent was a sparkplug, raring and ready to go. She gave an energetic interview, then another energetic performance until the producer said they were off, at which point she stopped mid chop stroke, said sincere thanks, and then she was gone.
No one knew quite what hit them. What hit them, of course, was a seasoned professional who has worked hard not only to become an A-list musician, but also an A-list entertainer. Look at any issue of Bluegrass Unlimited, and there isn’t another performer who is featured in so many festivals. She knows her business, and for decades, she’s done it tirelessly: she’s not out to change our minds, or educate us, or to challenge us, but to get people together and entertain them. Her show can seem a bit slick at times but, really, why not? There is a time for all things.
I’ve said all of that in order to say this: Vincent’s latest recording, Only Me, is impeccably produced, nicely conceived, and fantastically entertaining. There are two parts here, six bluegrass songs and six country songs. To be honest, I’m not clear as to why such a stark division is made—for those buying a physical copy, the songs are divided onto two discs—because all of the material comes from the same place, one of appreciation and delight. The country songs are covers and, to her credit, Vincent takes on some chestnuts—including “Once a Day,” and “Beneath Still Waters”—which in lesser hands could easily sound tired.
Here, everything sparkles thanks to the energy and the voice that Vincent brings, as well as the musicians that she’s assembled, including Josh Williams, duets with Daryle Singletary and Willie Nelson, and Mark Johnson on pedal steel. The result is a beautifully crafted romp through some fantastic material. It won’t change your mind about anything, but you’ll be singing along, and giggling here and there, and feeling blue now and again. And, as with everything that Vincent does, you’ll be entertained from beginning to end.