This week, bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent releases her newest project, "Sunday Mornin' Singin' Live!" A collection of Gospel songs recorded live at Greentop Methodist Church -- where she grew up in Missouri, she said that it was well worth the challenges they faced -- but there were some obstacles she and her band, the award-winning "The Rage," had to overcome.
"We started recording it back in June of 2011," she said of the album's timeline. "It's been very challenging, and very tedious. We showed up at the church to record, and there was no electricity because of a storm the night before. There was no electricity in five counties around the church. We thought about finding another church, but once we went there, and there was a very special feeling."
That feeling was a little bit on the hot and humid side, she reflects. "But, the building was a hundred years old, and it was a hundred degrees inside. It was quite a challenge to do, but was so rewarding."
Though she just started the album a year ago, a Rhonda Vincent Gospel set is something her fans have been looking forward to - for a long time. "People have been coming up to us at shows saying they have been looking forward more to this than any other project we've done. It's something that is so natural to me. I went to my hometown, and my home church, and sang the songs we knew, along with a few new ones. There's one called 'Silent Partner,' and 'Blue Sky Cathedral,' and some of the old hymns like 'The Old Rugged Cross' and 'Just As I Am.'"
Vincent had recorded "Bound For Gloryland" for Rebel Records earlier in her career, but that disc was with her family -- not a solo Gospel project, which had long been a goal. "I was under contract before, and every time I wanted to do a Gospel album, that was not what they wanted me to do. But, in 2010, I started my own Upper Management label, and this was at the top of the list. I didn't get to it as quickly as I wanted. I didn't think about it being a hundred degrees," she said, but did find a positive aspect of the heat. "I did find out that's the optimal environment for my voice."
One track on the disc that has emotional meaning to the singer is the classic "Where We'll Never Say Farewell." She still recalls the first time she heard it. "I was in junior high. I was in bed, and had the radio on. This song woke me up out of a deep sleep. It was a song by Larry Sparks. It has such a wonderful melody to it."
That melody - and others in the Vincent catalog come to life each night during a concert. The live performance is something the singer takes very seriously. "I enjoy the people that I work with. We don't use a set list, and sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes that's bad. That works for us. We try to feel the audience. If you've got a crowd that goes crazy when you put a banjo or a fiddle in, that's what we're going to try to next. I think that keeps the band on their toes. They don't know what we're going to do next, and sometimes I don't either," she says with a smile.
She does know how to wring emotion out of a song, as she does on the poetic "Prettiest Flower There," which appears on the album. She recorded it before in 2006 for her "All American Bluegrass Girl" album. "It was written by Val and Gene Johnson," she recalls. "They sent it to me on a CD, and I had just lost my grandmother. I was on the way to the airport, and I put the CD into the disc changer. I didn't know which CD was coming up, and the song started. Tears flooded, and I listened to it over and over. I've found that it really, really touches people."
Many of those people are her devoted fan following, who keep up with Vincent and Co. on the road and also on her website, www.Rhonda Vincent.com. "We call them 'The Ragers,' and they follow us wherever we go. There's a couple from Centerville, Iowa named Jim and Mary Goodman, and they tell me 'You have changed our retirement years.' In 2012, they have to around seventeen or eighteen shows. We did a TBN taping in Nashville, and they found out the night before, and drove all the way to be a part of that taping. You never know where they are going to be. We went to Europe last year, and there they were. They're great people, as are all the 'Ragers!"