Well, Charlie Sizemore is getting faster. Slightly. His last recording for Rounder, Good News, came after a five-year break. His latest was finished in four.
During that time, the changes have been few. His excellent band of mandolinist Danny Barnes, reso-guitarist Matt DeSpain, and bassist John Pennell is essentially the same as on the last recording, the only difference being the banjo slot, now ably held by Josh McMurray.
There are also two traditional numbers (“Poor Rambler,” sung by Barnes over his own old-time banjo lope, and the fleet “Going To Georgia”), and one instrumental, all of which the last recording lacked. Perhaps the biggest shift is that Sizemore did not include any of his own songs for this project. In his place, Paul Craft has stepped up with five, three of which (“Heartache Looking For A Home,” “Ashley Judd,” and “No Lawyers In Heaven”) are standouts with catchy hooks. “Ashley Judd,” this album’s counterpart to “Alison’s Band,” from his last, should prove a favorite.
Other than that, it is business as usual for Sizemore. He’s still got that warm, mid-range vocal, and he’s still a master storyteller, reaching up and pulling on your coat and all but whispering, “I’ve got one for you.” And then the whole afternoon reels away as one after the other, starting with Sonny Tackett’s memory song of being “Down In The Quarter,” the stories flow. “Down…” is a fine piece of songwriting with the kind of sharp arrangement and quick tempo that makes for a great opener. The slow, modal-tinged story of the perils of “Red Wicked Wine” (harmonized with Ralph Stanley) follows and is followed by the humorous-but-pointed “No Lawyers…” and soon after by Alan Jackson’s tale of a man listening to (and dreaming of) the woman upstairs “Walking The Floor Over Me.” Later comes “I Don’t Remember Loving You” and “Pay No Attention To Alice.” With the exception of “No Lawyers…” and “Ashley…” and “Going To Georgia,” these stories come laden with poignency, frustration, and pathos. None is more so than Tom T. Hall’s portrait of a woman lost to alcoholism, “Pay Attention To Alice.” Coming late in the tracking though it does, its gentle, country lilt coupled with Hall’s mesmerizing words and Sizemore’s sympathetic performance, rank it among the two or three best songs on what is a superb recording. Highly recommended. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)BW