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Album Review: Rhonda Vincent, Only Me

Rhonda Vincent-only_me

Rhonda Vincent
Only Me

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Modern bluegrass legend Rhonda Vincent shows off two sides of her musical repertoire with her delightful new album Only Me, which is split across two six-track discs. The first disc is a collection of bluegrass songs, while the second showcases Vincent’s prowess in performing traditional country music.

On the bluegrass side, Vincent is joined by her longtime backing band The Rage, which includes Hunter Berry on fiddle, Brent Burke on resophonic guitar, Mickey Harris on upright bass, Aaron McDaris on banjo, and Josh Williams on acoustic guitar, while Vincent herself performs on the mandolin. The entire band proves to be in top-notch form right from the fast-picking opening up-tempo “Busy City,” which segues into the album’s fantastic lead-single, the angst-ridden Larry Cordle ballad “I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All).”

Vincent is joined by two special guests on the bluegrass disc. The iconic Willie Nelson contributes duet vocals as well as guitar work to the title track – a love song which combines bluegrass instruments with Spanish guitar in a genre-blending album highlight. Vincent recasts George Jones and Melba Montgomery’s 1963 duet hit “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” as a bluegrass song on which Daryle Singletary supplies the male vocals – with glorious results.

Longtime fans know that the country disc is hardly the first foray into this genre for Rhonda Vincent, who even took an unsuccessful stab at become a mainstream country star in the nineties. Vincent’s work in the country field was highlighted by 2011’s Your Money and My Good Looks – a stellar duets project with country genre luminary Gene Watson. The country side of Only Me follows in the tradition of that excellent set, and is likewise dominated by cover material. This disc features a luscious take on the Dallas Frazier song “Beneath Still Waters,” a minor 1970 hit for Diana Trask which Emmylou Harris later took to the top of the charts in 1980, as well as a loving tribute to the late George Jones with a tear-jerking take on “When the Grass Grows Over Me.” As an extra treat, Vincent includes an original song that she wrote at the tender age of sixteen with “Teardrops Over You,” a country heartbreaker that sounds like it could very well have been recorded by any of the legends whose work Vincent here covers.

A particular highlight is Vincent’s take on Connie Smith’s Bill Anderson-penned 1964 breakthrough hit “Once a Day” – the first chart-topping debut single by a female country artist, and the longest running number-one single by a female country artist (until the latter record was broken in 2012 by… ahem… Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”). Vincent here turns the classic song into a gentle barroom shuffle. As one of very few women who are anywhere close to Smith’s league as a vocalist, she reminds us that the bluegrass queen can still deliver a honky-tonk wail like few others.

Vincent offers a pleasant mood-breaker with her gender-flipped take on Bill Anderson’s “Bright Lights and Country Music” – a song to which any longtime Opry listener will react with warm recognition. As the set closes, Vincent relishes her narrator’s boozy, brokenhearted misery on the 1946 Ernest Tubb hit “Drivin’ Nails” – a song Vincent previously recorded in a bluegrass setting, but here turns into a Western-swing-tinged fiddle jam with all the energy of a great live performance.

The press material for Only Me explains that the album is meant to provide an answer to the question of whether Vincent’s voice is bluegrass or country by confirming “it’s in the perception of the listener,” while showing that “either way, country or bluegrass, it’s Rhonda!” However, the project not only showcases how outstandingly adept Vincent is at performing both styles, but it also demonstrates how similar in spirit the two are – both built on accessible, sincere storytelling. Though the banjos and mandolins are swapped out for pedal steel halfway through, the project doesn’t feel like two different albums shoved into one – both halves feel like they belong together, making Only Me beautiful realization of the album as an art form. Better yet, it’s a welcome reminder that, regardless of genre placement, great music is universal.

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100 Greatest Men: #70. Ferlin Husky

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Equal parts classic country singer and brilliant comedian, Ferlin Husky was one of the consummate all-around entertainers.

Born and raised in Missouri, he learned guitar from his uncle.  The music bug led him to drop out of high school, and he played honky-tonks at night while working blue collar jobs by day.  During World War II, he entertained troops for five years.  It was during this time that he created the character Simon Crum, a hayseed hillbilly singer.  He would go on to play that character on record and on stage for many years.

He gained prominence in the burgeoning southern California country music scene as a musician, performer, and disc jockey.  His searing guitar work, featured on the studio recordings of Tommy Collins, helped shape the Bakersfield sound that would later expand the boundaries of country music.

In addition to the Crum moniker, he also performed under the stage name Terry Preston from 1948-1953, but he went back to his birth name by the time he started having major hits for Capitol records in the early fifties.   His breakthrough hit was a duet with fellow honky-tonker Jean Shepard. Their first collaboration, “A Dear John Letter”, topped the charts in 1953.

During the fifties, Husky was remarkably prolific.   He had two separate contracts with Capitol Records, scoring hits as both Ferlin Husky and his now-classic character, Simon Crum.   He appeared on radio and television, and even had bit parts in more than a dozen films.   He scored a huge crossover pop hit with “Gone” in 1957.

The string of hits continued in the sixties, the most notable being “Wings of a Dove”, which went on to become a country gospel standard covered by countless artists.  He earned great marks as a live performer, and the comedic talents he honed as Simon Crum were also put to use through mimicking the big country stars of the day.

He was also a mentor to several important country music figures, including Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Dallas Frazier.  His struggling as a young artist was something he always remembered, so he made a point to give a helping hand to young talent.

His health required him to cut back on performances from the seventies onward, but when he did perform on the Opry or on the road, he remained a popular draw.  A year before his passing, he was able to see his legacy secured, as he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

Essential Singles:

  • A Dear John Letter (with Jean Shepard), 1953
  • Gone, 1957
  • Country Music is Here to Stay (Simon Crum), 1958
  • Wings of a Dove, 1960
  • Once, 1967
  • Just For You, 1968

Essential Albums:

  • Songs of Home and Heart, 1956
  • Boulevard of Broken Dreams, 1957
  • Born to Lose, 1959
  • The Heart and Soul of Ferlin Husky, 1963

Next: #69. Travis Tritt

Previous: #71. Johnny Paycheck

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Top Twenty Albums of 2011, Part One: #20-#11

The country music umbrella stretched wider than ever this year, regardless of the fact that radio playlists seem shorter than ever.

Of course, it’s not just the Americana acts that can’t get radio play these days. Even top-selling albums by Scotty McCreery and Alison Krauss & Union Station weren’t embraced.

Country Universe editors and contributors each submitted a list of their ten favorite albums of 2011.  31 different albums were included on our lists, and over the next two days, we’ll share with you our collective top twenty.

Top Twenty Albums of 2011, Part One: #20-#11

#20
Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail
Noam Pikelny

His tenure with the Punch Brothers and his winning of the first annual “Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass” in 2010 both earned Noam Pikelny the clout to release Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail, his second solo album and first since 2004. Joined by an all-star roster of fellow pickers, Pikelny’s mostly instrumental set is a showcase both for its lead artist’s extraordinary technical skills and for the banjo’s wide-ranging potential. – Jonathan Keefe

Individual Rankings:  Jonathan – #4

Recommended Tracks: “Fish and Bird” featuring Aoife O’Donovan, “Boathouse on the Lullwater,” “My Mother Thinks I’m a Lawyer”

#19
The King is Dead
The Decemberists

The indie favorites take their hyper-literate brand of folk-rock for a rustic spin, achieving new concision in the process. Colin Meloy’s wild narratives and wilder lexical choices sound right at home in these short-and-sweet song designs, and the Americana field is richer for having them. – Dan Milliken

Individual Rankings: Dan – #4

Recommended Tracks: “Don’t Carry It All,” “June Hymn”

#18
Concrete
Sunny Sweeney

That solo women disappeared from country radio was one of 2011’s major talking points within the genre, but Sunny Sweeney’s Concrete provided some of the most compelling evidence that it wasn’t a lack of strong material that kept female artists off radio playlists. Balancing a keen traditionalist bent with a thoroughly modern point-of-view, Sweeney’s fully-drawn characters and clever spins on familiar country tropes proved that an album that sounds “radio friendly” doesn’t have to be light on actual substance or craft. – Jonathan Keefe

Individual Rankings: Ben – #3

Recommended Tracks: “Amy,” “From a Table Away,” “Fall for Me”

#17
It’s Already Tomorrow
Foster and Lloyd

Their first time around, Foster and Lloyd were one of the coolest country acts going, blending in a love of traditional country music with some ’60s post-British Invasion rock vibes. It’s Already Tomorrow, their first album in 20 years, shows an impressive return to form. Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd have released some terrific solo albums, but there is a definite magic that happens when they record as a duo. – Sam Gazdziak

Individual Rankings: Sam – #2

Recommended Tracks: “Picasso’s Mandolin,” “That’s What She Said,” “Can’t Make Love Make Sense”

#16
This is My Blood
The Dirt Drifters

As mainstream country music becomes increasingly slick and polished, it’s a refreshing change to hear something gritty and rough around the edges. The Dirt Drifters’ debut on Warner Bros. certainly qualifies. If you’re looking for country-rock that takes its cue from run-down country roadhouses instead of ’80s arena rock, this album is for you. – Sam Gazdziak

Individual Rankings: Sam – #3; Dan – #10

Recommended Tracks: “Always a Reason,” “Married Men and Motel Rooms,” “Hurt Somebody”

#15
Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town
Hank III

Hank III’s entire artistic persona is built on indulging in every type of excess he can think of, so it was hardly a shock when, for his first recordings after a less-than-amicable departure from Curb Records, he dropped four full-length albums of new material on the same day. While not all of his ideas are good ones– the less said about Cattle Callin’, the better– the double-album Ghost to a Ghost / Gutter Town proves that Hank III is driven to his spectacular highs not just by the various recreational drugs circulating through his bloodstream but also by a real fearlessness and creativity and a sense of respect for his bloodline. – Jonathan Keefe

Individual Rankings: Jonathan – #1

Recommended Tracks: “Don’t Ya Wanna,” “Musha’s,” “Dyin’ Day”

#14
Ghost on the Canvas
Glen Campbell

A late-in-life swan song by an icon acutely aware of their own mortality. That’s a fitting description of so many of the best country albums in recent years. This is the best of that subgenre since Porter Wagoner’s Wagonmaster. – Kevin John Coyne

Individual Rankings: Kevin – #5; Dan – #6

Recommended Tracks: “There’s No Me…Without You”, “Ghost on the Canvas”

#13
Chief
Eric Church

On the heels of an album that was largely a hit or miss affair, Church delivers a surprisingly electric third album, marked by its edgy sonic splash. But while its spin on country rock is undeniably enticing –a funky mix of swampy, trippy and punchy—the album’s soul is Church himself, a more believable artist this time around than most of his contemporaries. Because for all its hard ass sentiment, Chief actually walks the walk, as authentic as it is audacious. Outlaw in the making? Probably, but don’t tell Church I said so. – Tara Seetharam

Individual Rankings: Tara – #4; Sam – #6; Leeann – #10; Jonathan – #10

Recommended Tracks: “Hungover & Hard Up,” “Keep On,” “Creepin’”

#12
Long Line of Heartaches
Connie Smith

What more can you ask for? Purely straightforward and unadulterated country songs delivered by the finest vocalist the genre has ever been privileged to call its own. Smith’s own co-writes with husband and producer Marty Stuart (The title track, “I’m Not Blue,” “Pain of a Broken Heart”) sit comfortably alongside top-notch cover material penned by Harlan Howard, Johnny Russell, and Dallas Frazier, all backed by the sweet sounds of fiddle and steel aplenty. Long Line of Heartaches is a beautiful reminder of what country music once was, and could be again. – Ben Foster

Individual Rankings: Ben – #2; Jonathan – #5

Recommended Tracks: “Long Line of Heartaches,” “I’m Not Blue,” “Ain’t You Even Gonna Cry”

#11
Your Money and My Good Looks
Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent

There was no chance that this collaboration of straight up country songs between Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent was going to garner any attention from mainstream country music outlets. However, thanks to memorable songs, pure country production and Watson and Vincent reverently following the spirit of classic country duet albums of the past, this project was surely one of the stand out albums of the year. – Leeann Ward

Individual Rankings: Leeann – #2; Ben – #5

Recommended Tracks: “You Could Know as Much from a Stranger,” “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around”

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Dallas Frazier

Dallas Frazier, born in 1939, in Spiro, Oklahoma, is one of the defining songwriters of his or any other generation, penning classic songs that remain popular with core country music artists to this day. His lasting impression on the genre will be one of superb perception and purpose that led to a significant number of career-defining hits.

Raised in Bakersfield, CA, Frazier learned to play a variety of musical instruments as taught by his parents. This early start saw him achieve tremendous success in his teenage years. He served as featured member of Ferlin Husky’s band, cutting his first solo single, “Space Command,” in 1954. In 1957, Frazier scored a hit when the Hollywood Argyles covered his “Alley Oop,” a novelty song that nonetheless set his career into a higher gear.

When Hometown Jamboree, a popular TV show in which Frazier starred, was canceled in the late 1950s, Frazier and his wife lived in a number of western towns and eventually settled down in Portland. But feeling the desire to attempt a songwriting career (and prompted by a conversation with Husky), he moved to Nashville in 1963. His first success was writing Husky’s hit “Timber I’m Falling” in 1964. In the next two years, he became one of the most sought-after writers in town, with cuts such as Connie Smith’s “Ain’t Had No Lovin’,” and George Jones’ “I’m a People.”

In 1967, Frazier released his first record, Tell It Like It Is, but it was a song he had written a few years earlier that would become his signature tune. Elvis Presley, Roger Whittaker and Engelbert Humperdinck all recorded the song “There Goes My Everything”, but it was country singer Jack Greene that galvanized the sad story of separation. At the first CMA Awards in 1967, Frazier won Song of the Year for the pensive ballad, and Jack Greene earned the Single of the Year honors as well.

Frazier’s songs soon became staples for artists such as Jones, Greene and Connie Smith. Artists as diverse as Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard also mined Frazier’s song catalog for unique, traditional music, and Charley Pride reached the top of the charts with his “All I Have to Offer You is Me” in 1969. Frazier’s star continued to rise in the 1970s, as he recorded two solo records, Singing My Songs and My Baby Packed Up My Mind and Left Me. In 1972, Smith released an entire album of his songs called If It Ain’t Love (& Other Great Dallas Frazier Songs). Child stars of the past (Brenda Lee) and the present (Tanya Tucker, with the haunting “What’s Your Mama’s Name, Child?) continued to develop their career with the works from his terrific pen.

Frazier’s songs continued to hit the charts well into the next decade, with the Emmylou Harris version of his “Beneath Still Waters” becoming a chart-topping smash and helping Harris to her only win as CMA Female Vocalist of the Year. Also, Frazier’s “Elvira”, a song that Frazier had previously recorded, was revived by the Oak Ridge Boys and named the CMA Single of the Year in 1981. Gene Watson cut his “Fourteen Carat Mind” that same year.

With the tremendous talent of Frazier and his ability to seize the moment and give reason to a rhyme was a singular gift, his songs were able to translate to a variety of audiences, and he flourished well into the next decade. Neo-traditional artists such as George Strait, Randy Travis, and Patty Loveless found success with his compositions. Loveless’ version of the George Jones hit “If My Heart Had Windows” became her first Top Ten single in 1988, but later that year Frazier retired from songwriting and left Nashville after bouts with alcohol use and the frustrations of being a key player in the music business. But he has recently planned a return to the craft after many years as a minister, and fans surely anticipate the next traditional tune from the eloquent, understated Dallas Frazier.

The Dallas Frazier Catalog:

  • “Ain’t Had No Lovin'”, Connie Smith
  • “All I Have to Offer You Is Me”, Charley Pride
  • “Beneath Still Waters”, Emmylou Harris
  • “Elvira”, Oak Ridge Boys/Kenny Rogers
  • “Fourteen Carat Mind”, Gene Watson
  • “If My Heart Had Windows”, George Jones/Patty Loveless
  • “If This Is Our Last Time”, Brenda Lee
  • “I’m a People”, George Jones
  • “(I’m So) Afraid of Losing You Again”, Charley Pride
  • “Mohair Sam”, Charlie Rich/Peggy Lee/Dallas Frazier
  • “There Goes My Everything”, Jack Greene/Ferlin Husky/Elvis Presley/Englebert Humperdinck
  • “Until My Dreams Come True”, Jack Greene
  • “What’s Your Mama’s Name, Child?”, Tanya Tucker

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