Better Than Ever

All American Bluegrass Girl (Rounder Records)
Rhonda Vincent

By Bob Mitchell

Make no mistake about it: Rhonda Vincent is an all-American bluegrass girl who knows how to deliver a song. This project is accurately named; however, the marketing is unconventional and inappropriate. The cover photo is the most unflattering picture I have seen of Vincent, one of the industry's most professional and talented artists. Her long unkempt hair, low cut dress and body position are unbecoming of an artist of her stature. The overall package appears to be something associated with a punk rock or pop-country artist, not bluegrass.

Fortunately, the music, unlike the artwork, is top-notch bluegrass all the way. From the moment the laser hits the disc Vincent and The Rage treat the listener to one auditory delight after another. There are too many musical highlights to include in this limited space. Her heartfelt vocals and the band's meticulously precise support get stronger with each release.

Vincent contributes three new songs including the energetic, autobiographical title cut; a no-holds-barred instrumental, "Ashes of St. Augustine," and "God Bless the Soldier," a moving tribute to the men and women of our nation's military. Two other highlights are phenomenal duets with Dolly Parton on "Heartbreaker's Alibi" and Bobby Osborne on his original tune, "Midnight Angel." "Alibi" is straight-ahead bluegrass with exceptional support from Josh Williams (guitar), Hunter Berry (fiddles) and Kenny Ingram (banjo). Although Vincent previously recorded "Midnight Angel," this release contains a new verse written by her brother, Brian.

Throughout this release, Vincent generously allows her band to showcase their exceptional talent and The Rage doesn't hold anything back, especially on "Ashes of St. Augustine," a romping instrumental. However, when Vincent has the lead vocal, her boys provide the perfect underpinning to her lyrics. A tip of the reviewer's hat to The Rage for supporting rather than overshadowing the lyric and voice. Another example of Vincent's generosity and the Rage's skill can be found in their extraordinary cover of the timeless classic "Precious Jewel" with Josh Williams and Mickey Harris (acoustic bass) sharing lead vocals.

Guesting on this project are some of today's most respected musicians: Randy Kohrs (resophonic guitar) Andy Leftwich (mandolin), Bryan Sutton (acoustic guitar), Darrin Vincent (harmony vocals), Adam Steffey (mandolin), Charlie Cushman (banjo), Cody Kilby (acoustic guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle) and Kevin Grantt (acoustic bass). Interestingly, when Grantt arrived at the recording session he brought a new song co-penned with fiddler extraordinaire, Glen Duncan. "Jesus Built a Bridge to Heaven" was such an energetic song with such a positive message; it was recorded on the spot.

This is another dynamic recording that will be well received. You won't go wrong with this CD. On a five-point scale of excellence, this one merits a five. For more information go to www.rounder.com.