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Live Reviews from web archive April 6, 2009

Rhonda Vincent

Bill's Music Shop & Picking Parlor (West Columbia, SC), April 5, 2009

Seven-time IBMA award winner Rhonda Vincent is nothing if not a consummate professional, but even pros have nights when everything doesn’t quite click. This particular show, the second of two on the same day, was one of those. Vincent and company still put on a highly entertaining show, proving that even on an off night she retains the kind of great audience rapport that has endeared her to bluegrass audiences all over.

The band kicked off the evening with a spirited “Kentucky Borderline”, during which Vincent gave introductions for both of the newest members of the Rage – Aaron McDaris (the Grascals) on banjo and Ben Helson (Larry Stephenson, Kentucky Thunder) on guitar. Both seem to be fitting into the group’s onstage dynamic well, and they each took the first of what would be many soloing opportunities on this opening number.

The Rage is a perfect foil for Vincent’s experienced, professional stage presence; she rarely takes a mandolin solo, preferring to give the instrumental spotlights to the other band members. Even the group’s miscues were handled like pros: Fiddler Hunter Berry bumped into his instrument mike loudly at one point, but played it off in almost comical fashion by bumping it again in perfect time to the music, grinning apologetically at Vincent and the band.

The evening’s take on “Destination Life”, the title cut from Vincent’s upcoming June album release, included a rarity – Vincent flubbing lyrics bad enough that it resulted in both her and the band breaking up into laughter and struggling to hold it in while singing a new, rather serious song about a woman leaving her man. Vincent introduced the following tune, “Driving Nails In My Coffin”, as “A drinking song – after that last song, I need a drink.”

It wasn’t all gaffes and giggles, however, as the band regrouped and pumped out some of the serious, driving bluegrass they are known for. Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” was rendered darkly with great vocal harmonies from the guys, while McDaris took an opportunity to shine on an upbeat instrumental tune.

In the second set, Vincent played to the crowd even more, taking requests and offering up new songs that several fans in the audience already seemed familiar with. “The Last Time Loving You”, introduced as one from the upcoming album, is the latest driving, contemporary addition to Vincent’s extensive bluegrass repertoire, and the band turned Waylon Jennings’ “Stop The World And Let Me Off” into a Latin-flavored rumba reminiscent of the classic country duo Johnnie & Jack.

A Palm Sunday show wouldn’t be complete without some bluegrass gospel, and there were several such songs sprinkled throughout both sets. The best of these was “I Heard My Savior Calling Me”, a song they recorded for Bill Gaither’s Country Bluegrass Homecoming compilation. In what she claimed was only the second time this particular group had attempted the song, all five musicians contributed vocals, even the usually non-singing fiddler Berry.

Berry also contributed the most humorous moment of the evening when Vincent introduced “The Water Is Wide”, which country star Keith Urban sings with her on the recorded version. When she asked her bandmates if any of them wanted to take Urban’s vocal part on the song, Berry piped up, “I ain’t no Keith Urban – you ain’t no Nicole Kidman, either.”

Vincent is fond of the ’70s music she grew up with, as evidenced by her latest bluegrass retooling of a staple from that era, Poco’s “Crazy Love”, delivered with sincerity and spotless harmonies. That sincerity and stellar musicianship is what one is left with, once Vincent and her band finally leave the stage. Even on a night like this, when she was obviously tired from a long day of singing, the crowd brought Vincent out for an encore; she deferred to bassist Mickey Harris, who delighted the lingering audience with “Farewell Party”, a traditional country song off of his own most recent solo album. The tune gave Vincent and her band a chance to show that they’re not just another great bluegrass act – they’re a pretty decent honky-tonk band, too.

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