Album of the Week #15 – Rhonda Vincent’s Back Home Again

Back Home Again - Rhonda VincentI like to think of Rhonda Vincent’s Back Home Again as The Lion King of bluegrass albums. Stick with me on this…

The Lion King tells the story of Simba the lion who returns to the Pridelands to take his place as the one true King. Back Home Again tells the story of Rhonda the All-American Bluegrass Girl who returns to bluegrass to take her place as the one true Queen!

Released in 2000, Back Home Again is just what its title (and my analogy) suggests: Rhonda Vincent being “Back Home Again” in bluegrass music. After having made a name for herself in the Vincent family band, The Sally Mountain Show, Rhonda released a quartet of solo bluegrass projects on Rebel Records in 1990 and 1991.

Unfortunately, her subsequent attempt to crossover into country music did not acquire the success her pair of country albums merited. After being removed from the bluegrass scene for almost a decade, Rhonda Vincent returned to her roots with this, her debut album for Rounder Records.

Back Home Again features a great mix of material. Rhonda kicks off the album with one she learned from Reno & Smiley, Lonesome Wind Blues. Rhonda speeds the tune up a bit, which takes it to a whole new level, completely changing the feel of the tune as compared to earlier renditions. After hearing this killer recording, the industry knew that Rhonda Vincent was back and ready to stay! CAUTION: If listening to this song while driving, your speed WILL rise. It happens to me every time.

Another great bluegrass chestnut which Rhonda included is Pretending I Don’t Care. Recorded earlier by both Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys and The Traditional Grass, Rhonda’s beautifully tear-stained voice delivers the song with a sort of rugged elegance. It’s a treat to hear the Queen paying tribute to the King, and this track provides another reminder of how great of a contribution Paul Williams’ songwriting is to the bluegrass music catalog!

One of the newer songs on Back Home Again is one Rhonda recycled from her country career. Passing Of The Train appeared on her first country album, Written In The Stars. It’s hard to beat a good train tune, and this one reminds us that one of the greatest symbols of American ingenuity has passed. The slapping bass introduction to this song is outstanding. As a kid, I thought that was the coolest sound I’d ever heard, and it still evokes a childlike wonderment as an adult. The way the fiddle is used in place of a train whistle is brilliant. This has always been a favorite of mine.

Another contemporary song appearing on this album is When I Close My Eyes, now a Rhonda Vincent standard. The song was a #2 hit for Kenny Chesney in 1996, but Rhonda Vincent’s version takes the cake. Here, Rhonda’s pure vocal power is on display. The arrangement and instrumentation is simple, leaving plenty of room for Rhonda’s voice to shine. Jerry Douglas’s dobro compliments Rhonda beautifully. The next time any non-bluegrasser wants to get into an argument about some of music’s best female singers, this recording leaves no doubt that Rhonda Vincent deserves a place near the top of that list.

Another favorite of mine is her interpretation of the Louvin Brothers’ standard, You’re Running Wild. This may sound odd, but You’re Running Wild strikes me as a very adult song. It’s one of those that digs into tough issues and handles them like adults.

There are enough songs out there that handle topics childishly. Don’t believe me? Listen to a Taylor Swift song, or any song on pop radio these days. The current music industry is littered with songs discussing childish topics such as one night stands and beer pong. You’re Running Wild handles the tough stuff in a mature manner, which is lacking in mainstream music these days. Rhonda does an excellent job conveying the song’s sorrowful tone. The control she has over her voice while still maintaining plenty of emotion is extraordinary.

Back Home Again includes many other great songs like You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, You’re In My Heart, and Jolene among others. With her in the studio was an all-star cast of modern day greats like Glen Duncan, Ron Stewart, Paul Brewster, Bryan Sutton, Darrin Vincent, and Jerry Douglas.

Not only did Back Home Again solidify Rhonda Vincent’s place as the Queen of Bluegrass, but it opened a lot of doors for women in the industry. While Rhonda had earned the respect of her male peers long before this album, Back Home Again shattered the glass ceiling for women in bluegrass. Before her return you could count the number popular bluegrass women on your fingers. Nowadays, there are more women involved in bluegrass than ever before! Two of the music industry’s brightest young stars associated with bluegrass are women: Sierra Hull and Sarah Jarosz. Back Home Again opened many traditionalists’ (or chauvinists’?) eyes to the notion that women could record powerful bluegrass every bit as strong as any man.

Since the Queen’s return to bluegrass, she received 7 consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) from 2000-2006, 2001 Entertainer of the Year, 2001 Recorded Event of the Year, 2004 Song of the Year (Kentucky Borderline), as well as host of awards from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association. She has recorded songs with Gene Watson, Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, and Joe Nichols (just to name a few).

She and her band, The Rage, are supported by bluegrass’ most revered sponsor, Martha White, and they have appeared on the Grand Ole Opry too many times to count. She has even started her own record label! A future hall of fame member, Rhonda Vincent is one of the most respected figures in our industry, and we’re so glad she decided to be back home again!

Back Home Again (ROU-0460-CD) can be purchased from the Classic Country Connection or County Sales, or can be downloaded digitally from iTunes or Amazon Music.

Make sure you own a copy of this landmark album.

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel is from southwestern Ohio and has been around bluegrass his entire life. He manages the Classic Country Connection, a music store in southern Ohio which specializes in bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and Americana music. He is the host of the Bending The Strings radio program, which plays a variety of bluegrass, newgrass, and Americana music. He also maintains the website for Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers. photo by LuAnn Adams

  • Darren Sullivan-Koch

    Well said! Her country albums are grossly underrated, and yet this was such a triumphant return. I am surprised, however, that you didn’t mention “Little Angels”: That song was an incredibly bold choice, raising a very serious subject in rather frank terms. It’s hard to imagine a major bluegrass artist willing to tackle something so controversial and important these days.

  • Jim Moulton

    I got one of Rhonda’s country CDs and enjoyed it, but her bluegrass is so much her. She sounds naturally at home with this recording, could be her best.