Rhonda Vincent was preparing to launch her first Christmas tour last year when she was sidelined by abdominal surgery. This year, she's delivering holiday cheer via the album Beautiful Star: A Christmas Collection.
"It's the most enjoyable project I've ever done," Vincent declares. "It was so much fun." Although she has recorded Christmas music before for compilation CDs, this is her first solo Christmas album.
"We kept getting so many requests," she says. "I have my own [recording] studio now. So it was a little more convenient for me to do. When I was off the road, even for a few hours, I could go in there and do the vocals. It was something that Darrin [Vincent, her brother and co-producer] could continue to work on if I wasn't there. We did kind of sandwich it in."
Except for "Christmas Time at Home," which Vincent wrote for CMT's Special Olympics project in 2003, all the songs on Beautiful Star are standards. "Basically, Rounder [Records] gave me a list of the songs they would like me to record." Vincent says she deferred to Rounder's marketing savvy and essentially adhered to the list -- even though her first impulse had been to record original Christmas fare.
Vincent says the wisdom of recording traditional Yuletide music became clear to her recently when she and her daughters were trimming their tree. "We were listening to an album that my daughters had -- I don't even remember what it was -- and we didn't recognize any of the songs. It really didn't bring us the joy. But if 'Jingle Bells' comes on, we know that and we're singing along."
With recordings already in hand of "Christmas Time at Home" and "Oh Christmas Tree" (from an earlier compilation), Vincent began cutting her album in January of this year. By April it was done.
"It was so much fun," she recalls, "because we took some liberties that we can't take on a normal studio project. We tailored each song around what we envisioned it to be. Like with 'The Christmas Song,' we put a piano on it. That's probably something I would never do on my normal bluegrass records. We also [used] Amber Burks. She's a 17-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Nashville. I'd heard her play 'Blackberry Blossom' on the harp, and I wanted to do something really special with her. I called her and asked her if she could bring her harp in, and we found a song tailored to the harp, that being 'Away in a Manger.'"
Still, there was some tweaking that had to be done. When Vincent played "Twelve Days of Christmas" for her mother, the reaction wasn't exactly what she'd hoped for. "She said, 'Why did you record that song?'" Vincent agrees the original take was boring with only her vocals on it. To brighten the sound, she returned to the studio and assembled a chorus that included her band members, her daughter, her husband and even her usually non-singing bus driver.
Vincent gives a nod to her musical roots on the album by featuring the bluegrass classics "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" and "Christmas Time's a Comin'," the latter made famous by Bill Monroe. Also included are "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Let It Snow," "Silent Night," "Winter Wonderland" and "Jingle Bells."
Since the album's release in October, Vincent has generally incorporated "Christmas Time at Home" in her live shows and closed them with an audience-participation version of "Twelve Days."
The usually hyperactive Vincent will be off the road until New Year's Eve when she performs on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.