Rhonda Vincent’s Only Me, released yesterday (1/28), settles a longstanding debate: Is she country or is she bluegrass?
The answer found on this delicious recording is a resounding yes. There’s something for everybody: Six bluegrass cuts on one CD, six country cuts – traditional country, not the current stuff that’s really just pop in boots – on a second disc.
I’m not picking sides, and I encourage you not to either. No matter which genre you prefer and no matter which disc you play, this is just solid, foot-tapping music that I find myself turning to again and again.
All of that, of course, is expected when Rhonda Vincent’s name and face are on the cover. But there are plenty of surprises. First, when I read that Willie Nelson was making a guest appearance, I figured for sure he’d be on the country disc. I figured wrong.
Nelson and Vincent offer up the title cut as a duet on the bluegrass side. Their deliveries, his rough-around-the edges and hers silky smooth, mesh in a delightful way in this desperation-tinged song about someone almost pleading to be “the one.”
The lonely longing of the title cut is a theme woven throughout nearly every song on both discs. They’re beautifully done, of course, but oh, so sad, dwelling on broken hearts and the one that got away.
Among the best of the lonely and blue cuts:
I Need Somebody Bad Tonight, in which the title phrase is followed by the phrase “because I just lost somebody good.” It’s on the bluegrass disc but easily could have made the cut on the country side as well. And the burner that kicks off the bluegrass set, Busy City. I was halfway through this, tapping along with the bass line, until I realized the five-time Grammy nominee was singing about a lover who split for the bright lights and endless nights of some metropolis.
But the best song – not just of the broken-heart cuts or of the bluegrass tunes, but of the whole project – is I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All). Yes, the title is a mouthful, but this three-four time gem will stick around on the airwaves and in CD players for a long time.
The song sounds like an instant classic has an interesting back story. It almost didn’t get cut. Co-writer Larry Cordle sent a demo to Rhonda years ago and it got pushed aside and forgotten about as she issued record after record. But something lodged in her subconscious and she got a chance to ask about the phrase she remembered when they ended up playing together.
He figured out the song she referred to, sent her a new demo in a digital format (which didn’t exist the first time he pitched it to her) and the rest is “don’t-give-up” inspiration for songwriters everywhere.
The country part of the CD delves even deeper into broken-hearted misery, fueled by the crying of Mike Johnson’s expressive work on the steel guitar. Among the highlights here are When the Grass Grows Over Me – I’ll be over you when the grass grows over me – Drivin’ Nails – “I started out drinkin’ for a past time, drivin’ nails in my coffin over you” – and one from Rhonda’s own pen, Teardrops Over You.
But the real keeper here is another one of those songs in which the message sneaks up on you, Bill Anderson’s Once a Day. This one swings, and it’s easy for the listener to imagine the narrator finally getting over her broken heart because she’s only crying once a day. Then these lines clobber you over the head: “The only time I wish you weren’t gone is once a day, every day, all day long.”
I could say something wonderful about every cut here, but I’ll leave room for listeners to make some discoveries on their own. Suffice it to say that Rhonda’s voice – one of the most emotionally expressive in bluegrass – and the pickers, from her band, The Rage, along with some of Nashville’s best sidemen, are in fine form here.
Debate all you want about bluegrass vs. country. But give Only Me a listen and you’re not likely to debate this: Rhonda Vincent, always solid, is at the top of her game on this one.