Black Music Matters Festival

Rhonda Vincent

Only Me – 2014 (Upper Management)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

See it on Amazon

Bluegrass icon Rhonda Vincent took a stab at country stardom early in her career, after leaving her family's Sally Mountain Show band, but before racking up an ongoing string of bluegrass classics with her band The Rage. It didn't go well, perhaps because Vincent is a traditionalist who didn't wear contemporary country production with the right artifice. It certainly wasn't because she doesn't love country music, as this new double disc set proves. There's a "Bluegrass" disc full of her hard driving mandolin-centered style, but there is also a "Country" disc, which shows what Vincent can do with the genre when given a chance to do it her way.

Even the bluegrass half of the album contains country influences, with Willie Nelson guesting on the title track and Daryle Singletary singing along to "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds," but when the pedal steel sings out on "Beneath Still Waters," you know you're in a deep well of country music. Vincent's take on "Bright Lights and Country Music" may not be the most rebellious-sounding version, but she can sing "Drivin' Nails" in country or bluegrass style and rock it either way - if she hadn't already recorded it that way, it might have been interesting to include it on both discs here for the comparison.

Vincent's heart is still firmly in bluegrass, however, and with one of the best bands in the business, she continues to dominate in the field. Her picking on "Busy City" is fast and furious, and the band matches her pace; that Nelson duet suggests he might have made a decent bluegrasser himself. The biggest revelation here may be the voice of Singletary, whose minor hit country career before heading into bluegrass is reminiscent of Vincent's own career path. As a bluegrass singer, he's expressive and heartfelt alongside Vincent, echoing her work with Gene Watson.

Whether it's country music or bluegrass music, Rhonda Vincent has earned the right to sing and play whatever she wants, as she does here.