Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – Taken
Like Alison Krauss, the clear-voiced Rhonda Vincent is something of a gateway drug into the world of bluegrass. She’ll win you over with a pop-leaning tune like “I’ve Forgotten You” and soon you’re playing air mandolin on her version of “Muleskinner Blues.” New album Taken is a new venture for Vincent. After a decade on Rounder, this record is the first release on her own label, Upper Management Music. It’s a good one.
Let’s talk about the album’s strongest song first: “In the Garden by the Fountain” starts off sounding like an airy love song, but wait! It’s actually a murder ballad where the onetime object of a lady’s affection ends up taking a dirt nap beneath a bed of roses in the same garden where the two once courted. Could things get any better? Yep: Dolly Parton shows up to contribute harmony vocals. It’s one of the best songs of the year of any genre, and mandatory listening. There’s another big name guest, too, this one a little more surprising: it’s Richard “Right Here Waiting” Marx, who guests on the album’s title track. While “Taken” is a lovely ballad, it’s sandwiched in between the two best songs on the album, the upbeat “The Court of Love” and “In the Garden by the Fountain,” causing a slight case of whiplash.
Nevertheless, Vincent is at the top of her game whether she’s fondly recalling childhood memories on lead single “Sweet Summertime” or she’s keeping the home fires burning for her trucker on a rip-roaring version of “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home,” which was a Top 10 hit for Barbara Mandrell in 1971. She’s delivered excellent classic country covers numerous times before, like “Jolene” and Ernest Tubb’s “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin,” and this easily ranks near the top of that list.
The Rage, having undergone personnel changes that include banjo man Kenny Ingram’s departure from the band, is in fine form here, zooming through effortless, speedy solos and providing tasteful backup. “Ragin’ Live for You Tonight,” composed by Ragers Mickey Harris, Ben Helson, and former Grascal Aaron McDaris, can be considered an updated version of “Bluegrass Saturday Night” from 2008′s Good Thing Going, right down to its band member shout outs and references to Vincent’s sponsor, flour company Martha White.
After eleven solid songs, Taken blows the dismount with a soppy final track that uses one of music’s most horrid gimmicks: the moppet chorus, which is featured on the saccharine “You Must Have a Dream.” Though the kids are led by Isaac Moore (an eight-year old who has performed with Ralph Stanley and Doyle Lawson) and Hannah Harper–another talented preteen bluegrasser–the use of the children’s choir combined with lyrics like “Just fill your heart with hope/And you will find your dream” makes “You Must Have a Dream” sound like a theme song for George Costanza’s Human Fund.
For the most part, though, Taken is a fine album, one that’s a mighty enjoyable listen for longtime Rhonda Vincent & The Rage fans and one that could easily win over a few converts.
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