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Rhonda Vincent: the all American bluegrass girl

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2006

Rhonda Vincent doesn't hold back when it comes to giving her latest disc a brash title - "All American Bluegrass Girl." Some might question why one of bluegrass music's leading lights opted for a title putting the pressure on her to match expectations, but Vincent isn't afraid because it describes her musical life, singing "I'm as bluegrass as can be."

"The song is an autobiography of my life and growing up within a musical family in Missouri," says Vincent via cell phone during a tour stop in Millidgeville, Ga. "It's basically a truism. Boys would come up usually teenage pickers, and they'd go 'You're pretty good for a girl'. Well thanks."

"Everything in the song is true," she says. "I had the title first before I wrote the song," says Vincent, adding, "I usually end up writing on deadline and by necessity...I made sure I had all the things that really felt expressed who I am. I guess I really feel I am the all-American bluegrass girl."

"I grew up around the music. I have the passion for the music. I love the music. All the people that I work with have a passion for the music. My life is completely centered, besides my family, around bluegrass music. And I'm American."

Her driving force was her father, who played in a bluegrass family band, the Sally Mountain Show, where the young Rhonda first earned her performing spurs. Vincent says her father told her, "Don't ever let somebody tell you can't do something. I was raised in this environment that you can do anything you want to do if you set to mind to it."

She said that led to "(my) ignorance of any obstacles. This is just something we're going to do." Vincent says she gained musical direction from Rounder Records' owner Ken Irwin, who told her, "There is a void. There aren't any women out there doing straight-ahead bluegrass."

She said the guidelines "really made me focus" musically.

The new disc - Vincent says it's her 23rd between family and solo projects - covers a lot of ground, including a few songs about soldiers, religiously-themed songs, heartbreak and heartache and an instrumental ("Ashes of Mt. Augustine," inspired by having seen a volcano while touring in Alaska). And she gets help on a few songs from heavyweights Dolly Parton and Bobby Osborne. Vincent co-produced with brother Darrin.

The title of "God Bless the Soldier," one of three songs penned by Vincent, more than she usually writes, pretty much highlights where Vincent is coming from. "Till They Come Home" centers on the anxiety of loved songs waiting for a soldier's return.

Vincent wrote "God Bless" after making a visit to Fort Hood in Texas. "I had performed 10 days straight...I thought I was going to spend the day by the pool and perform...that night. That's usually the way it goes."

"When we got there, the military had other plans." That meant visiting a military hospital at 10 a.m., lunch at noon and later visiting generals and VIPS in the afternoon. "I was not prepared for the impact that that visit would make...These soldiers were just back from Iraq. One was discharged, and she hadn't even left the hospital. (She said), 'I wanted to wait and thank you for taking the time to be here'."

"'You're kidding me. We should be thanking you'," Vincent says she told them. "I was so stunned by that attitude. When we played that night and went back to the hotel, I'm exhausted, it's 11 days straight."

Instead of putting her head down on the pillow, Vincent wrote the song. "This is the first time I've ever experienced this in my life. I was basically holding the pen on this one...In 15 minutes, I wrote 'God Bless.' There is so (much) commercialism with political songs and with songs about the military...It's like enough already."

"I started doing a little (song) testing, just me and a guitar on stage. In the middle of our show, we started receiving standing ovations for this song. Veteran soldiers (were) coming up to me sobbing. They haven't talked about Viet Nam since they came back, but now this has opened up this appreciation...I knew it had a place."

Vincent gets serious on "Forever Ain't That Long Anymore" and "Heartbreaker's Alibi." Parton sings backing vocals on "Heartbreaker's "Alibi," while Osborne, who just released a fine album himself earlier this year," duets with Vincent on "Midnight Angel."

"They are two of my very favorite people in the world," says Vincent. "Bobby is one of my favorite male vocalists of any time. The Osbornes are the greatest influence on my family...I had (previously) recorded 'Midnight Angel.' My brother Brian wrote a second verse."

"This is his debut as a songwriter, and he wrote that verse 10 years ago, right after I recorded it the first time. I loved the song and wanted to record it again. Darrin said, 'What if we get Bobby Osborne to come in and sing that second verse? Bobby came, and he loved the song. To have him come sing on it, I have just never hard him sing better. I was just blown away It made it a very special event. He is such a part of who I am and the music that I have."

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