Rhonda Vincent Biography
"I remember the date."
Rhonda Vincent is reflecting back to the genesis of her new album with the same precision and clarity that she brings to her music. "It was January fifth of 2007. I had flown to Portland, Oregon, and I was in a hotel before a show. My husband called, and we started talking about all the wonderful things that were happening in our life. We wrapped it up by saying something like, 'Yeah, we got a Good Thing Going.' I hung up the phone and thought 'That's a good idea for an album title,' because that's where I am in my life..."
Good Thing Going, available on January 8, 2008 on Rounder Records, finds the "new queen of bluegrass" (in the words of the Wall Street Journal) in infectiously high spirits. Gleaming with hope, resilience, and gratitude, Vincent presents a set of songs that range from timelessly straight-ahead bluegrass to effervescent swing and heartfelt ballads delivered with both her road band The Rage and an impressive cast of supporting musicians and guest stars. With five new Rhonda originals or co-writes, Good Thing Going is her most personal, autobiographical project yet. "I have never written five songs to include on an album," she remarks. "I have to be inspired to write a song...but there's been no shortage of inspiration lately." The playful title cut, written not long after that pivotal phone call, is indicative of Vincent's outlook. "That song is mostly true," she says with a smile, "but it's up to you to separate the fact from the fiction."
Co-produced with her brother and long-standing musical cohort Darrin Vincent, Good Thing Going is the result of a vigorous creative process, all documented on www.rhondavincent.com in a series she calls "Join the Journey." "It's been a great thing," she explains, "to bring the fans into the project, and show them that making an album happens step-by-step – from choosing the songs to choosing the musicians to cutting the tracks to picking the cover art, recording the vocals, mixing, and mastering."
"From the very beginning, we want the right songs, the right musicians, the right guests," Rhonda explains. "Something I purposely targeted on this project was to have unique guests who might not be on everything you hear." Most astonishing is the presence of country star and Rhonda Vincent fan Keith Urban, who joins Vincent for an evocative version of the traditional lament "The Water is Wide." "I knew it was going to happen," a visibly excited Vincent says, "but I didn't tell anyone. I couldn't risk jinxing it!"
Russell Moore, whose soaring voice has thrilled bluegrass fans as part of the popular band IIIrd Tyme Out, joins Vincent on a particularly meaningful ballad, "I Give All My Love To You." "To me," Rhonda says, "that song has become the centerpiece of the album. My assistant and dear friend Julia was getting married not long ago, and I was her wedding planner. She couldn't find a song for her wedding, so I took pen and paper and snuck off to the back of our Martha White Bluegrass Express bus, and just started writing down what I thought of her and how happy I was for her." That fans have already been asking Vincent for permission to perform the song at their own weddings, or those of their loved ones, is powerful testament to the song's honest, heartfelt sentiment.
It is the same heartfelt honesty that has propelled Rhonda Vincent to her standing among the premier artists in today's burgeoning bluegrass field. Born and raised in a musical family, she made her onstage debut singing and tapping a snare drum with her family's band The Sally Mountain Show when she was five years old. She picked up the mandolin (the instrument most associated with her, though she's no slouch on any instrument with strings) at age eight, the same year she released her debut 45 – a driving take on "Muleskinner Blues." Learning the nuances of harmony, arrangement, and stage presence by performing throughout her childhood, Vincent grew into a formidable musician and a radiant, captivating lead singer able to deliver both overpowering up-tempo numbers and soulful, introspective ballads. Her early bluegrass solo albums led to a Nashville deal, and the experience of recording her two fine commercial country efforts taught her essential lessons about the inner workings of the music industry.
Vincent triumphantly returned to bluegrass with her 2000 Rounder debut Back Home Again. That same year, the bluegrass community welcomed her back with Female Vocalist of the Year honors at that year's International Bluegrass Music Association awards – her first of an unprecedented seven consecutive wins in that category. She received the coveted Entertainer of the Year award from IBMA in 2001, concurrent with the release of her second Rounder album The Storm Still Rages. One Step Ahead followed in 2003, which included "You Can't Take It With You When You Go," a top-five video hit on CMT. A live CD and DVD project, Ragin' Live, was released in 2005, while All-American Bluegrass Girl, featuring the propulsive title track (a number one hit on the Bluegrass Unlimited charts), came out in 2006.
In addition to her rigorous touring, performing, and recording schedule, Vincent opened her own studio, Adventure Studios, in Nashville in 2005 – where All-American Bluegrass Girl and Good Thing Going were recorded. "In everything we do," Vincent explains, "we're attempting to create something unique and special. Having my own studio gives me the freedom to do that, with no time constraints. While we were recording this new album, some of the musicians in the studio said one day 'You're not recording tracks – you're creating something.' That meant a lot to me."
Good Thing Going had more than it's share of magical studio moments – several of them in the recording of "Just One of a Kind." "It was written by Dottie Rambo, who is a real inspiration to me," Rhonda explains. "Darrin and Kathy Chiavola sang the harmony – it's three-part harmony all the way through, which is unique. Then we had Jesse McReynolds, a legendary bluegrass figure, come in and play his unique style of cross-picking. We thought the song needed a little percussion – like brushes on a pizza box. Someone mentioned James Stroud..." Stroud, a country music label owner, producer, and seasoned session musician, was Vincent's musical and business mentor, and remains a much-respected behind-the-scenes figure in country music. "He's a drummer by trade," Rhonda recalls, "and we called him. He said 'If you got the pizza box and the brushes, I'll be there.' So I went to Pizza Hut and got the box and picked up some brushes, and he came in and played on his very first bluegrass session!"
Although Good Thing Going features an impressive selection of musicians and guests, Rhonda is clear that everything is done in service of the songs. "For every project we do, it's always about finding the right person for the song: we want the right songs, the right musicians, the right guests." Sometimes the right guests are there on the bus; Rhonda's touring band The Rage are a versatile and confident ensemble, and are featured on several cuts, including Vincent's original "Bluegrass Saturday Night."
"'Bluegrass Saturday Night' is really a tribute to the fans," she explains. "I debuted it at the Ryman Auditorium during their bluegrass series, and the response was so incredible. I was thinking it would just be a song that's not on any album, just a tribute we do in concert. But the next night, we got to a show and already people were requesting it. A lady in the front row said 'Sing "Bluegrass Saturday Night,"' and I said 'How did you know about that?' She said 'I read about it on your message board and now I want to hear it!' That told me something..."
With her invigorating performances continuing to forge powerful connections with her fans, a richly constructed new album in the wings, and her continued growth as a songwriter, Rhonda Vincent has reached a new peak in her already storied career. Her optimism bursts through the speakers, and is both believable and inspiring. "This album says a lot about where I am, and where I'm going," she concludes. "After all that my family, my band, my support staff, and I have worked for – all that sacrifice and effort, practices and gigs and endless hours in the studio – I truly believe we all have got a Good Thing Going."