Prime Cuts: Dreaming of Christmas, Christmas Time, Christmas Medley
When Rhonda Vincent recorded her first Christmas album nine years ago, she approached it like a she was on the ice skating ring for the first time. She sold her "bluegrass" soul and ditch her regular band in favour of making an album that tries to imitate the classic Christmas sounds of Frank Sinatra and Bing Cosby. But that was not enough. In an added effort to sound contemporary, she had pawned her fiddle so that she could get a snare drum on the record. As a result, Vincent 2006's "Beautiful Star" was a mess exposing a schizophrenic Vincent trying to please far too many people. Nine years later, Vincent is more comfortable in her own skin. "Christmas Time" is truly Vincent: it's Vincent allowing her bluegrass soul to run free amidst free flowing fiddles, mandolins, and piano riffs.
Besides featuring her own touring band The Rage, Christmas Time also features a who's who of musicians. Joining Vincent on the album is ACM "Fiddle Player of the Year" Stuart Duncan, ACM "Steel Guitar Player of the Year" Mike Johnson, ACM "Piano/Keyboards Player of the Year" Michael Rojas, mandolinist extraordinaire Sierra Hull, and many more, who all come together to bring the Christmas sound to a whole new level. While Vincent only contributed one solo composition for her first Christmas offering, here she offers four cuts. The best among her quartet of compositions is the tuneful album opener "Dreaming of Christmas." Featuring a driving mandolin over a catchy tune, Vincent expresses her wishes, "I'm dreaming of Christmas/ What a celebration, it's my favorite time of year/ I'm dreaming of Christmas/ Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."
Taking a detour from the frolicking fun of Christmas, "Christmas Time" is a plaintive ballad finding a teary-eyed Vincent sitting alone missing her paramour. "Milk and Cookies" is a tad light hearted while "Christmas Time At Home" is Vincent's re-cut of the same song from her debut festive album. The latter ticks all the boxes as far as what passes muster for a bluegrass record, but the song somehow doesn't reveal Vincent's soul. Speaking of soul, Vincent does a stunning job when she sings a string of carols together (What Child Is This, We Three Kings, It Came Upon The MidnightClear, O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, O Holy Night, and Hark The Herald Angels Sing) on "Christmas Medley." Featuring just Vincent with a grand piano, this piece is stunningly gorgeous.
Another highlight is "Twelve Days of Christmas." Here Vincent has enlisted the Who's Who of country music to sing with her. Her guests include Dolly Parton, the Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, Bill Anderson, Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, Gene Watson, Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis, Jeannie Seely, Larry Gatlin, and EmiSunshine. But with such a A-listed crew on board, the frivolous "12 Days of Christmas" sound a tad unworthy of such a cohort of great singers. If one were Vincent, one would have chosen a more substantial offering with a more pertinent message to convey.
"Christmas Time," relative to Vincent's debut Christmas album, shows improvements in spade. However, while Vincent was far too cautious with "Beautiful Star," she seems a tad too relax with "Christmas Time," especially with some of her song choices and (at times) with her singing.
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