Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ with Rhonda Vincent

Sunday Mornin’ Singin’My eyes filled with tears the first time I listened to Sunday Mornin’ Singin’, the remarkable new live Gospel project from Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.

Not a typical reaction for a hard-bitten critic, to be sure, but I blame the music. Good music reaches out and touches you. Great music grabs you and doesn’t let go. And this, friends, is great music.

At first, my eyes moistened a bit because this is the kind of my music my mother listened to and sang until she died a year ago this month. But when Rhonda launched into The Prettiest Flower There halfway through the CD, the tears flowed freely. This song could have been written about my mom, and Rhonda’s emotional vocal and Hunter Berry’s heartbreakingly tender fiddle unlocked a river of grief that I thought was behind me.

By now, anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with bluegrass knows that Rhonda is a first-rate performer. But in this live performance, recorded at the Greentop Methodist Church in her hometown of Greentop, Missouri, Rhonda and the band are at their peak. Indeed, to my ear, you could strip out the applause tracks and the banter between songs and release this as a studio project. It’s that tight, even with three- and four-part harmonies and a couple of songs performed a cappella.

I’m pretty sure Prettiest Flower would be among my favorites even it didn’t stir memories of mom. But there are plenty of other great moments here, including Blue Sky Cathedral, with elegant, understated strings; God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds, featuring a dynamic vocal by Berry; four-part a capella harmonies on Becky Buller’s Fishers of Men and the up-tempo Joshua, driven by some hot five-string pickin’ by Aaron McDaris.

For good measure, Rhonda and the band add stirring renditions of two standard hymns, Just as I Am and The Old Rugged Cross.

Rhonda has never been one to shy away from taking chances. She was, for example, among the first in bluegrass to choose to self-record, and now others are following in her footsteps.

But imagine the pressure of recording a live, harmony-rich project – in your hometown, no less. That’s about as high a bar as I can imagine. Rhonda Vincent, Hunter Berry, Mickey Harris, Ben Helson and Aaron McDaris cleared it with ease.

There may be a better Gospel record and a better live project in 2012, but if so – on either count – it hasn’t been released yet.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.

  • Jon Weisberger

    ” She was, for example, among the first in bluegrass to choose to self-record…”

    What does “self-record” mean?

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      If he means “self-release,” you and I both know he is woefully incorrect. Sure, she’s one of the biggest bluegrass acts to leave the comfort of an established label, but she was nowhere near the first…that’s ridiculous!

      • Cory Anderson

        I’ve been lurking here, but I had to create an account to answer this!

        NIT PICK, NIT PICK, NIT PICK!

        Hey guess what?! He didn’t say “she was the first” – what he said was she was among the first and I think we ALL know what he meant.

        Please, please post a review of an album and let people PICK IT APART for stupid reasons!

        So Jon Weisberger, who the heck are you, that you would pick such an insignificant thing to pick on?!

        Must not have anything else to do to be on here with your blah blah blah.

        John, here’s an explanation of self-record:
        http://www.sonicscoop.com/2012/05/31/self-recording-artists-who-why-and-how/

        • Darren Sullivan-Koch

          I don’t think it’s nit-picking when you are pointing out a factual inaccuracy that the editors should have excised or at least queried before going to press.

          In this case, Rhonda does NOT self-record. She owns her own studio, she finances the release of her own records, but she hires engineers, sound people, and mastering folks to deal with the sundry audio taskts. It’s not bad that she does this: She gets great results by working with professionals and paying them a competitive wage. But she does not “self-record” as your handy article defines it.

          And, if you don’t know that Jon Weisberger is, let me add that he is one of the most thoughtful, informed, and passionate minds in bluegrass today—someone with a complete understanding of the music’s traditional roots and modern permutations.

  • Jon Weisberger

    It just seemed like an odd statement. Bluegrass artists have been recording and/or releasing stuff on their own dime for a long time – Jim & Jesse were pioneers in that regard, recording their late 50s classics themselves and then leasing them to Starday, and creating their own Old Dominion label in the early 1970s – so I was wondering what the thinking was behind it.

  • Cory Anderson

    OK – points well taken.

    What I took issue with most of all was the condescending tone that seemed to permeate the writing.

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      I hear ya. It’s hard to raise inaccuracies without sounding like a jerk.

  • David Morris

    Sorry I’m late to this party. I’m at a music camp and only checking in sporadically. The beauty of the American system and the Internet is I get to say anything I want, mistakes and all, and everybody else can fire back. On this matter, I should have been more precise in describing Rhonda as one of the biggest bluegrass stars to go her own way.

    Cory, I appreciate you registering and commenting. But Darren is correct. Jon has serious bluegrass chops, as a bass player, songwriter and journalist. I don’t always agree with what he says or the way he says it, but I’m always interested in his comments.

    Play on.

  • Cory Anderson

    It is NOT hard to post a comment that questions something and not sound like a jerk.

    The power of words – you CAN use them to question something and be polite about it. If you are a journalist, you know this!

  • Jon Weisberger

    What’s impolite about “what does “self-record” mean?”

  • Darren Sullivan-Koch

    Come to think of it, Cory’s response to Weisberger was way more belligerent than Weisberger’s original comment!