Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – Taken

Juli Thanki | October 7th, 2010

Rhonda Vincent - TakenLike 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.

4 Stars

  1. Leeann Ward
    October 7, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I’m really enjoying this album.

  2. Janet Goodman
    October 7, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Leeann- “I’m really enjoying this album.”

    I’m really enjoying this review! From “playing air mandolin,” to “taking a dirt nap,” to Richard Marx giving her whiplash, to the moppet chorus making “‘You Must Have a Dream’ sound like a theme song for George Costanza’s Human Fund”, it’s chock full of gems! Thanks, Juli.

  3. Leeann Ward
    October 7, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    It goes without saying that I enjoy a Juli Thanki review/feature. If I say it everytime at this point, I’ll just seem like a fangirl.:)

  4. Jon
    October 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I haven’t heard the album yet, but I’m certainly enjoying the cover – it’s the best “hey, mister, my eyes are up here” picture I’ve ever seen.

  5. Paul W Dennis
    October 7, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    I like the album, but both of the two albums before it were stronger than this album

  6. CountryFan
    October 7, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    I love this album… coming off of Rhonda’s last album “Destination Life,” I was a little worried that his album would be just as terrible as that one was…. I am glad to say I was so wrong.

    This album has so many standout songs like “Taken,” which may be the best ballad Rhonda has ever recorded. I am also in love with “In The Garden By The Fountain,” but anything featuring Dolly Parton has to be wonderful. “A Little At A Time,” “The Court of Love,” “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home,” and “Back On My Mind” are all wonderful as well.

    The only songs I don’t care for at all are “When The Bloom Is Off The Rose” and “Song Of A Whippoorwill.” Rhonda’s daughters are just not up to the vocal abilities of their mother. I would also enjoy “You Must Have a Dream” if the children were left off of it, it would have been much more an enjoyable song without them.

  7. CountryFan
    October 7, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Really Paul? I thought Good Thing Going was an awesome album…. but Destination Life is the worst album Rhonda has ever recorded.

  8. Leeann Ward
    October 8, 2010 at 7:14 am

    I’m not too fond of Destination Life either. I really gave it a good chance too.

  9. Stewman
    October 8, 2010 at 11:12 am

    FWIW, Richard Marx has been a prominent song writer in the country field for about 10 years now. Not as surprising as one would think.

  10. Max Collum
    October 27, 2010 at 10:07 am

    What a great cover of “Back On My Mind”! This is sure to be released as a single proving that great old songs always come back around. Rhonda and the band have given an old Milsaps hit a fresh pair of legs, guaranteed to keep this classic back on blue grass fans minds!

  11. Daisy Swanson
    October 27, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I just saw Rhonda play at Roots in Nashville
    last week. Wow, what a class act. “Taken” is her best album yet, and should expose her to new folks
    around the world. Great songs, my favorite is “back On My Mind” If it`s not already, this version should make it a Bluegrass standard.

  12. The Backyard Harmonica Teacher
    December 3, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Dolly’s voice blends uncannily with the fiddle!

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