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Music Review: Rhonda Vincent – Destination Life

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Raised in a musical family, Rhonda Vincent has spent most of her life in the world of bluegrass. Music seems a part of her genetic makeup, and here she leads her touring band through a fine collection that finds her staying close to her bluegrass roots after experiments with more country-oriented material on her last couple of outings.

That’s not to say that Vincent is content to repeat herself, or play it safe … Destination Life takes a few chances, with primarily successful results. Eschewing special guests, there’s a cohesive sound here, with arrangements road-tested and tight. And she’s reached far and wide for material, though the genre’s familiar themes – abiding love, heartbreak, home and faith all feature prominently in the playlist.

The first two tunes are both gems, catchy and melodic, with Vincent claiming co-writer credit on opener “The Last Time Loving You.” The title tune succumbs to syrupy sentiment, though. The music is fine, but the genre is already burdened with more than enough third-person story-songs about leaving the past behind and bravely facing an uncertain future. It’s no doubt well-intentioned (and probably sells records) but the message is shopworn and rather maudlin.

Things are quickly back on track, though, with the incongruously jaunty “Heart Wrenching Lovesick Memories” (now there’s a song title!) and the touching “Crazy What A Lonely Heart Will Do,” the latter a duet between Vincent and banjoist Ben Helson. He’s not a terribly strong vocalist but here he’s thoroughly convincing thanks to the simple dignity of his unadorned delivery.

“Anywhere Is Home When You’re With Me” is a barn-burning delight, but Vincent’s take on Buck Owens’ “Stop The World (And Let Me Off)” is a bit of a misstep, the vocal lines sounding out of synch with the curiously syncopated rhythm. Better is a cover of Poco’s “Crazy Love,” its lilting melody an ideal fit for a bluegrass treatment.

Vincent co-wrote the next two, the clear-eyed “What A Woman Wants To Hear” (better than its title suggests) and “I Heard My Saviour Calling Me,” a so-so tune redeemed by a heartfelt performance by Vincent and stunningly effective harmonies from the band. The traditional instrumental “Eighth Of January” gives everyone a chance to stretch out, before proceedings close with a shimmering acappella treatment of “When I Travel My Last Mile,” with band members again providing superb harmonic support.

Vincent has one of the strongest voices in bluegrass, and her band, The Rage, is a well-honed unit, equally capable of seamless ensemble work or breathtaking virtuosity. Destination Life, despite minor missteps, is her strongest collection to date … good stuff!

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  • Blake

    Ben Helson Plays Guitar and his vocals are decisively tasteful and on Key. Some of the best of all recent newcomers in the past 5 years.