With the Jan. 8 release of Good Thing Going, her seventh album for Rounder Records, Rhonda Vincent once more finds her tour schedule bursting at the seams. She's already booked more than 100 shows and media appearances for 2008 and will likely have at least 20 more on the calendar before the year gets much older.
Photo Credit: Albert Sanchez
Good Thing Going zoomed to the top of Billboard's bluegrass chart its first week out, propelled there, in part, by the fact that it features a duet with Keith Urban as well as five of Vincent's own increasingly skillful compositions. In addition, Vincent had fueled fan interest by chronicling each step of the album's creation on her Web site in a self-penned series she called "Join the Journey."
"I came up with 'Join the Journey' because so many people were saying, 'When are you going to have a new album?'" Vincent tells CMT.com. "The fans were demanding this new music, and I knew there was no way it was going to be finished [since] we were in the middle of a tour. This gave them something to talk about and let them know what we were doing."
That Vincent is still standing after her labors of last year is something of a miracle. In addition to touring incessantly, she co-produced and recorded the current album and supervised the construction and décor of her Nashville recording facility, Adventure Studios. Along the way, she also planned an elaborate wedding for her good friend and veteran assistant, Julia Yocum. She even came up with the wedding song, "I Give All My Love to You," which appears on the album.
Such frenzied activity raises the question: Is Vincent nuclear powered or just incredibly well organized?
"I'm organized," she asserts. "It just doesn't appear that way to everybody else. I organize myself by the series of little baggies that are behind the seats on a plane. I have tons of those, and I make scrawls on all the little notepads from the hotels -- whatever I can find, a receipt or something. Most of my organization is done when I'm on planes."
It was through her daughters that Vincent became an admirer of Urban's music. "Each time when I'd get off the road for a few days, I'd say, 'What do you want to do, girls?' And they'd say, 'We want to go to a Keith Urban concert.'"
At the time, Vincent and Urban had the same booking agent, so she was able to wangle not only tickets for herself and the kids but backstage passes, too. That started their connection. Later, she encountered him occasionally when they were both playing the Grand Ole Opry.
On Vincent's album, Urban appears on the traditional folk tune, "The Water Is Wide." She had originally recorded it for her last album, All American Bluegrass Girl, but decided it didn't fit. So she resurrected it for the new album. Urban took time off from recording his own album to add his vocal track to the song. "I really think he's so talented, and I just envisioned him singing on this song," she says.
Good Thing Going spotlights some other distinguished guests. Award-winning bluegrass crooner Russell Moore harmonizes with Vincent on "I Give All My Love to You." Fabled mandolinist Jesse McReynolds (of Jim & Jesse fame) picks on "Just One of a Kind." Vincent's brother, co-producer and fellow Rounder artist, Darrin Vincent (of Dailey & Vincent), also performs on most of the tracks.
But the oddest guest appearance is by drummer James Stroud, who was brought in to play a pizza box on one of the cuts. Stroud used to head the now-defunct Giant Records, and Vincent was the first act he signed to the label. That was back in the early 1990s when she was attempting to establish a career in country music. While that particular goal never came to fruition, Vincent credits Stroud with teaching her the essentials of recording and of how the music business works.
This wasn't the first time Vincent had used pizza-box percussion on a recording session, but it was the first time Stroud had heard of such goings on.
"James thought it was a joke when I called him," Vincent says with a chuckle. "He said, 'Are you serious? Do you want me to do this?' And I said, 'Absolutely!' He said, "If you'll have the pizza box and brushes, I'll be there.' So I ran to the Pizza Hut over in Hermitage, and I got small, medium and large pizzas. We had the brushes there. He checked them out. We ended up [choosing] a medium [box], and we were good."
One of the album's many gems is Vincent's breakneck version of the Jimmy Martin classic, "Hit Parade of Love," a song she routinely includes in her stage shows. "Everybody started posting on my message board that we had to put it on this album," she explains. "I really didn't plan to record it, but everybody said it was their favorite song."
Vincent says she depends on the Internet "every day, every moment" to keep in touch with her fans. "We have a very active message board. It's just a way for people to communicate. They know what we're doing. They know where we're going. ... I think [the Internet] leads to sold-out shows."
As popular as Vincent has become, she could probably book a show every day. But she's learned to temper her enthusiasm for touring. "In 2004, we did 180 dates and were on the road almost 300 days or more. That was the turning point. ... There has to be a balance between being with your family and being on the road."
Good Thing Going resonates with all the traditional bluegrass sounds and arrangements, but it departs from such standard bluegrass themes as yearning for home and a simpler way of life. Instead, it focuses more on relationships. Vincent says there was no deliberate intent to go in that direction. It was just the way things turned out. "These are the songs I was attracted to," she reflects. "They said what I wanted to say."