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Rhonda Vincent remains one step ahead

By John Lupton, May 2003

"One Step Ahead" well may be justified as the title for Rhonda Vincent's latest dose of bluegrass.

The Missouri native just did a few days of the huge Merlefest bluegrass extravaganza in North Carolina before doing a gig in Alabama, interviews in Nashville and an appearance with Alison Krauss - the other reigning female diva of bluegrass - at the Grand Ole Opry.

And this isn't atypical for the 40-year-old, decades-long veteran of music. Despite her increasing level of success, Vincent says in a telephone interview from Nashville that recording "One Step Ahead" was "much more challenging than any other album...We were on the road (in 2002) for 300 days."

Vincent, a lively, fast-talking personality with lots on her mind, says recording started in April 2002 and continued off and on until April 2003.

"It was done in many pieces like that instead of having weeks and weeks to work on it," says Vincent. "It was running into (the studio), doing it here and there. I pretty much did the same style of recording the same way as I've done for 25 years. I always record with my brother (Darrin, whose regular night-time gig is playing with Ricky Skaggs)."

Despite the fast pace, Vincent says she has the liberty of following her own muse thanks to Rounder Records, the Cambridge, Mass.-based indie label that has now released three Vincent albums.

"I also have a record label that allows me to record with my heart," she says. "We record with my heart and my gut."

"The bottom line is we had the same formula," says Vincent.

That may not exactly be such a bad thing given the great success of Vincent in recent years with numerous awards.

But what is different, at least from outward appearances, is the cover of "One Step Ahead." Vincent is clutching a mandolin in her left hand with black leather pants and jacket and a maroon shirt with some midriff showing. Vincent exudes a "don't mess with me" look.

Vincent says, of course, this was no accident. Vincent recounts a story of meeting fans after a concert. The husband was a fan, but his wife was not so interested prior to coming after having seen a picture of Vincent in the newspaper. Vincent apparently not did not look to be particularly exciting.

The wife, however, must have liked what she heard. Vincent recalls her saying, "'Your image does not match your message. I saw your picture in the paper and thought this looks boring. My husband says we're going to the show. Your picture didn't reflect anything like your show.'"

So Vincent opted for a cover this time around with some more oomph. "Hopefully it reflects more like the music," Vincent says. "It's not your typical bluegrass cover. I don't want it to be a typical bluegrass cover. That was our goal - to make something different."

While Vincent talks about using the same formula, the fact is that the disc takes some twists and turns away from past releases.

That is probably most apparent on "Frankie Belle," an instrumental featuring Vincent taking a mandolin solo, Skaggs' mandolinist Andy Leftwich, brother Darrin on upright bass, Cody Kilby on guitar and banjo and the song's writer Molly Cherryholmes on fiddle.

First of all, Vincent has not had any instrumentals for awhile. That would date back to her pre-Rounder and Giant Records (a previous label for Vincent) days.

And second, while it may be incredibly hard to believe, Cherryholmes is all of 10 years old.

"She's a left-handed fiddle player," says Vincent. "I have not heard anyone so talented since I heard Alison Krauss when she was 12."

Vincent says she was at Silver City in Branson, Mo. Cherryholmes, who is part of a family band from Arizona, was going to be playing at Branson.

While Vincent was unable to see the family band, Vincent got her hands on the song. "I thought, 'oh my gosh. This is perfect for my album.'"

Vincent says she learned from Cherryholmes' mother that the children are homeschooled. They were given ' an assignment to write a song.

"I was floored when I found out she had written a song," says Vincent with obvious excitement. I said, 'oh man, what's that tune?' She said, "Molly wrote that.' I said, "no way.'"

"They work great for the album, and they work great for the show," Vincent says of the songs picked for the disc. "All of that has to translate."

Unlike many bluegrassers, Vincent has been unafraid to tackle some social issues. On her "Back Home Again" release from 2000, Vincent recorded "Little Angels," a song about child abuse given to her by a fan at a New Brunswick, Canada concert in 1997.

On the new disc, "Caught in the Crossfire" details a child torn by the breakup of the marriage of his parents. "I'm caught in the crossfire/of a world that's so unkind," sings Vincent. "I love'm both but I can't choose/which one to leave behind/I'm caught in the crossfire/of a world that's so unkind."

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