Good Thing Going
3 stars (out of 5)
Rhonda Vincent has packed her latest album with a variety of musical styles, terrific songwriting, and a dream roster of special guests. Her crackerjack band; her brother, co-producer, and ace harmonizer, Darrin Vincent; and even her fans (known collectively as the Ragers), have added their voices to Vincent’s own considerable talents to put the “good” in Good Thing Going. Yet, the result is a less-than-cohesive, even contradictory album.
A song that enjoys a special place in the hearts of the Ragers is Vincent’s version of the Jimmy Martin/Wade Birchfield classic, “Hit Parade of Love.” All the Ragers who begged her to commit “Hit Parade” to disc, will be thrilled with the result, and those from the “don’t-mess-with-a-classic” school may find themselves equally engaged. The band excels here: Kenny Ingram picks the banjer solid, and Hunter Berry’s screaming fiddle underscores the bristling, live feel.
“Bluegrass Saturday Night” is a life-on-the-road anthem in the mold of Bill Monroe’s “Heavy Traffic Ahead.” With shout-outs to the Ragers, her band mates, and even her sponsor, Martha White, “Bluegrass Saturday Night” is destined to become yet another fan favorite.
As good as she is at bluegrass barnstormers, Vincent does even better work on two of the album’s mid-tempo country numbers. “Just One of a Kind” (Dottie Rambo) is a Jim & Jesse favorite that Vincent used to perform with her family band, the Sally Mountain Show. It’s re-imagined here with a breezy, 70s country feel – Glen Campbell and John Hartford might have worked it up this way. Exquisite harmonies from Darrin Vincent and Kathy Chiavola, and a guest appearance by bluegrass pioneer Jesse McReynolds (who adds his patented cross picking) are the icing on the cake of this sweet love song.
On the other side of the romantic coin is Vincent’s collaboration with Connie Leigh (“Sadie’s Got Her New Dress On”), the bitter country waltz, “Scorn of a Lover.” Vincent and the Rage give a driving, good ‘n’ country performance here. Vincent’s lead crackles with anger and pain that are echoed by Berry’s sighing twin fiddles.
Two tracks in particular are real musical departures for this band. Karla Bonoff’s version of the traditional tune, “The Water is Wide,” inspired Vincent to try it here. She and guest vocalist, Keith Urban, surpass Bonoff’s take with the sheer beauty of their harmonies.
Guests Bryan Sutton (guitar) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) give extra snap to “World’s Biggest Fool,” a slice of old-school swing, which sets off a thoroughly modern lyric. In fact, Vincent is especially good at combining down-home musical style with lyrics that address contemporary concerns. The album’s title track, written by Vincent, is yet another example of this skilled fusion.
With all the distinctive musical character to be had here, it’s disappointing to hear several tracks that more closely resemble the kind of featureless material that’s performed regularly on “American Idol,” or in modern mainstream country circles. Both “I Give All My Love to You” and “I Will See You Again” have compelling back stories. (Vincent, as charismatic on the page as she is in performance, puts these across beautifully in her song notes.) “I Give All My Love to You” even boasts a lovely duet vocal from Russell Moore.
But, without the external input, these songs (along with “I’m Leavin’,” “I Gotta Start Somewhere,” and the title track) are simply forgettable. Despite musicianship equal to that of the album’s best tracks, these bland throwaways don’t even approach the exhilerating standard of the stronger work here.
There’s something for everyone on Good Thing Going, but faced with the choice of buying the whole album or downloading the tastiest tracks, consumers may wish that Good Thing Going was as good as it could have been from the first track to the last.
by Maria Morgan Davis