Music News & Reviews

Watson and Vincent's first duet worked so well they did it some more

Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent have been successful individually and as a duo.
Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent have been successful individually and as a duo.

There was literally no time for fanfare when Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent first met face to face in September 2007 to seal a musical partnership that began a few months earlier when they recorded a duet in separate studios.

There were no handshakes between the cross- generational country stylists. There wasn't so much as a "How do you do?" Delayed by air travel, Vincent arrived at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, where Watson was performing, walked onstage and immediately kicked into a song.

In short, their first meeting was a performance for live television.

"They always used to tell all of the artists performing for the televised portion of the Opry that if you are not at sound check or at camera blocking, you will not be on the show," said Vincent, a multiple International Bluegrass Music Association Award winner. "So that's what I was thinking about as I was sitting at the airport in Kansas City for a flight that was delayed. I thought, 'I'm not going to get to meet Gene. I'm not going to get to sing with him.' But I arrived at the Opry just in time to walk onstage. Our first face-to-face meeting was singing together on that stage. It was so bizarre."

Adding to the curious nature of their formal introduction was the song they performed: the Buck Owens classic Together Again.

The duo's recorded version of Together Again was featured on Watson's 2007 album In a Perfect World. They teamed again for his 2009 recording A Taste of the Truth on Staying Together. Those tunes set the idea in motion for an entire album of duets; it will hit stories this week as Your Money and My Good Looks.

On paper, the Watson/Vincent duo might seem a peculiar pairing.

Watson, 67, is a Texas-born singer who has been unwavering in his love of staunchly traditional country music. He scored nearly two dozen country hits in the '70s and '80s, including 14-Carat Mind and You're Out Doing What I'm Here Doing Without, but he never retreated from touring and recording as younger, pop-bred artists took over the charts.

Vincent, 48, is perhaps the most recognizable female artist in bluegrass music behind Alison Krauss, having become a touring and recording juggernaut during the past decade with her band, The Rage. But she also grew up as a fifth-generation performer in a family band that included generous portions of country music in its repertoire.

They are nearly a generation apart in age, but Watson and Vincent share a mutual love of traditional country that is proudly displayed with this inscription on the cover of Your Money and My Good Looks: "Warning: Contains Real Country Music."

"To me, bluegrass has always been a sister of country music, so it feels quite natural to sing both," Vincent said. "I love singing bluegrass. That's what I do as a career. But it's also fun to have an extension of that to play with.

"But this is more than that. There is a serious void out there now for really traditional country music. And I think we have been able to fill that with this project.

The music on Your Money and My Good Looks was cut in predominantly live sessions over two days. Vincent's husband, Herb Sandker, was producer, and some of Nashville finest country/bluegrass players (fiddler Stuart Duncan, steel guitarist Mike Johnson among them) filled out arrangements that made Hank Williams' My Sweet Love Ain't Around sound as if it could have come from the same generational pen as the Vincent original Making Everything Perfect Tonight.

But the whole point of a country music duet is the vocal blend. The tone and temperament Watson and Vincent summon with their singing creates a sterling throwback to a more unspoiled and dramatically emotive country sound, whether it's through a weeper like Gone for Good or a more pert heartbreaker, such as You Could Know as Much About a Stranger.

"I don't sing with any vibrato, and Gene sings with very heavy vibrato," Vincent said. "It was really quite surprising to find out how well our voices sounded together. So when we looked each other in the face at the Opry, when we sang together that first time in person and heard our voices together, we could just tell there was a uniqueness to that blend.

"And that is a rare and exciting thing."