One of the most acclaimed and popular figures on today's bluegrass scene, Rhonda Vincent shows no signs of slowing down and taking it easy. It's simply not her nature. Relentlessly pushing forward, Vincent has built a remarkable career based on equal measures of pure, natural talent and tireless dedication. She prides herself on her involvement with every facet of her music: she's not only an award-winning vocalist - Vincent is a resourceful multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and most anything else with strings), heartfelt songwriter, esteemed bandleader, and, as her new recordings continue to prove, a producer with the rare gift of creating recordings that balance the timeless drive and soul of bluegrass with a subtle contemporary elegance. That unique balance is audible throughout her thrilling new album, the aptly-titled All American Bluegrass Girl, which blends her distinctly modern take on bluegrass with classic elements, and features Vincent performing alongside members of her fiery road band the Rage, a host of top-notch session musicians, and some of the music's legendary figures. It is also the first album recorded in her own studio, Adventure Studios in Nashville.
The title track is her story, an original, high-energy crowd-pleasing autobiography in song. “I worked hard on it, to make it real and true,” Vincent explains. “This song became not only the title for the album - it set the tone for this project.” Not only does the patriotism and honesty of the lyric establish a theme that is carried throughout All American Bluegrass Girl, but its music epitomizes Vincent's surging yet sleek brand of bluegrass that, while sounding natural and effortless, is something Rhonda has been diligently perfecting pretty much her entire life.
Vincent was raised on bluegrass, first taking the stage with her family's band the Sally Mountain Show when she was barely five years old. She started learning mandolin at age eight, which was also when she released her first single - an exhilarating, driving arrangement of “Mule Skinner Blues” that Vincent still performs. Learning the nuances of harmony, arrangement, and stage presence by playing with the Sally Mountain Show 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 the following year, 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.
All the while, Vincent was refining her supporting group, the Rage. When the lineup evolved to include guitarist/mandolinist Josh Williams, fiddler Hunter Berry, bassist Mickey Harris, and banjo player Kenny Ingram, Rhonda felt the time was right to document their storming live concerts as both a CD and DVD. Ragin' Live was released in 2005, and boasted a well-chosen selection of prior favorites, instrumental and vocal features for members of the Rage, and several previously unrecorded songs that found Vincent working with a small string section in a more hushed, evocative style. The album was nominated for a 2005 Best Bluegrass Album Grammy® award. The reflection and preparation that went into the creation of Ragin' Live helped set the stage for All American Bluegrass Girl. “I did intentionally want to make sure that this album had more of a classic sound,” she says, “since we ventured away from that style a little bit on Ragin' Live. But I always hope to have a good balance of everything - from in-your-face bluegrass to softer acoustic country sounds. I approached this album like I do our live performances, and try to have something for everybody.”
The twelve tracks that make up All American Bluegrass Girl cover a wide range of styles and textures, while maintaining a carefully consistent sound. The spry title track moves seamlessly into the quietly eloquent, bittersweet “Forever Ain't That Long Anymore.” For every high-energy bluegrass track, there is something more quietly personal, like the beguiling “Prettiest Flower There.” She continues to find refreshing new dimensions to her music, as evidenced by the swinging, bluesy gospel of “Jesus Built a Bridge to Heaven.” In addition to the strong performances, All American Bluegrass Girl is a showcase for Vincent's gift for finding new and intriguing songs that fit her emotional style. In the course of her travels, she is handed hundreds of cassettes, CDs, and lyric sheets. “And,” she says sincerely, “I listen to them all. The songs I am drawn to many times have the simplest of melodies, but also a compelling story. The ones that speak to our emotions seem to be the most effective. It's amazing, but people seem to want to hear a song that will make them cry.”
While Vincent claims that she is especially excited to discover new writers, one of the most encouraging elements of All American Bluegrass Girl is her own continuing emergence as a songwriter, with the title track, the poetic and moving “God Bless the Soldier,” and the nimble instrumental “Ashes of Mount Augustine.” Despite winning the 2004 Song of the Year award from IBMA for her co-composition with Terry Herd, “Kentucky Borderline,” Vincent admits, “I still don't feel like a true songwriter. Those are the people who go to work and write songs every day from 9 to 5. I would describe myself more of a person who is inspired on occasion to put my feelings on paper and a melody to those words. 'God Bless the Soldier' is a good example. I wrote this song after a visit to the nation's largest military base in Fort Hood, Texas. I was not prepared for the impact that visit would have on my life. We visited a military hospital, where we met with patients who were active duty soldiers, just back from Iraq. I was amazed at how appreciative they were of our visit. Some were just out of surgery, others on their way to be discharged from the hospital. But all were anxious to see us, and thanked us for taking time to see them. I felt it the other way around.”
A striking version of the Roy Acuff classic “Precious Jewel,” featuring shared lead vocals from Rhonda, Mickey Harris, and Josh Williams of the Rage, is testament to Vincent's foundation in traditional country music. A stunning guest appearance by Dolly Parton (“Heartbreaker's Alibi”) and a duet with bluegrass great Bobby Osborne (“Midnight Angel”) are indicative of the respect felt for Vincent by her both her peers and her idols. “It's always sheer delight to be in a room with Dolly,” Vincent reflects. “She is so easy to work with. What amazes me about her the most is that she is an icon and doesn't need anything from anybody, but yet is the most down to earth, thoughtful, kind, and giving person I know. I admire her so much. And to sing with Bobby Osborne, it is such an honor. The Osborne Brothers are the greatest influence on my family's music as I was growing up performing in The Sally Mountain Show. And that influence is still very prevalent in what I do today.”
And what she does today has radio, press, and fans on their feet. Nearly two months before the album's release, the title track of All American Bluegrass Girl was already charting on the Bluegrass Unlimited monthly radio survey. At the 2005 International Bluegrass Music Award Show, when most musicians are bringing out their hits from the past year, Rhonda - always looking ahead - dazzled the audience with the yet-unreleased “Rhythm of the Wheels,” since included on All American Bluegrass Girl. Thanks to her ongoing sponsorship arrangement with longtime bluegrass supporters the Martha White Company, Vincent plans to keep pushing, wheeling the red, white, and blue Martha White Bluegrass Express bus from coast to coast. For Vincent, the greatest reward is to experience first hand the connection her music has with audiences. “Just recently,” Rhonda relates, “I was reminded how powerful this music is, no matter how old or young you are. A little girl from Missouri came up to me, after hearing 'All American Bluegrass Girl' and asked, 'Could I sing your song?' I asked her why, and she just said 'Because I'm an All American Bluegrass Girl too!'”