This post comes from our semi-regular correspondent, Richard F. Thompson. He writes from England, where he is also a longstanding contributor to British Bluegrass News, a quarterly print publication where he also briefly served as editor.
Although the actual signing took place a few months ago, Rounder Records has recently announced the signing of revered bluegrass singer, band leader and attorney Charlie Sizemore.
At the same time, Rounder has announced the August 14th release of Sizemore’s first album for the label, Good News (ROU 0591). The 14-track CD is the first new studio album from Sizemore in five years. As of today (6/19), there are no audio samples on the Rounder site, but one track from the new CD, I’ve Fallen And I Can’t Get Up, can be previewed on Charlie’s MySpace page.
A powerful songwriter whose songs have been recorded by Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Doyle Lawson and Dry Branch Fire Squad to name a few, Charlie Sizemore contributes four new original songs to Good News. Among them the tongue-in-cheek Alison’s Band, reflecting Sizemore’s dry sense of humour that fans have to come to love. Other highlights include songs by Dixie and Tom T. Hall, Harley Allen, and veteran songwriter Hank Cochran. While Sizemore considers the record a bit “rough around the edges,” this is only in the sense that the record was recorded pretty much straight-ahead and live in the studio. With Good News Sizemore and co-producer Buddy Cannon shared the common goal of wanting to make a record that feels like and sounds like the records Charlie heard and liked while he was growing up.
Sizemore’s vocals are as restrainedly powerful and as unique as ever, and he considers co-producer Buddy Cannon to be his equal as the moving force behind the record and its making. Though it was done “live and quick,” Silver Bugle is a song the idea for which, Sizemore has carried around with him for the last fifteen years. It’s an evocation of a Civil War era event from his native part of Kentucky. Throughout the album, Sizemore’s singing is soulful and heartfelt, bringing a new level of emotion and insight to songs new and old. Much of the source of his powerful, yet subtle, emotional style comes from the world in which he grew up, Sizemore being one of the few contemporary bluegrass singers to have learned at the feet of the original generation of mountain singers and performers, from rural eastern Kentucky in an area where the Stanley Brothers were like gods, more popular and better-known than any other of the music’s founders.
After playing with his father, other local notables and Melvin Goins, Charlie Sizemore was hired at age of just 17 to take over from the departing Keith Whitley in Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys. He stayed with Stanley for over nine years, before leaving to start his own band and to attend college and later law school. He graduated with honours, and now maintains a successful law practice in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, in addition to his musical endeavours. Ralph Stanley said recently:
“Charlie Sizemore gave me nine and a half years of honest and dependable service as lead singer in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was one of my top lead singers that I have had through the years. Charlie knows music and knows how to make it right. I would highly recommend this CD.”
Sizemore provides this brief story about what led up to him signing for Rounder, as well as offering some comforting encouragement for ambitious young bands.
“Buddy Cannon, who has known Ken Irwin for probably two decades, sent him a copy of our rough mixes. I wasn’t particularly hopeful – if you’re sending an unsolicited recording to Ken you’d better hit the bulls eye or at least come really close. In the end, Rounder thought I deserved a chance and that’s all I can ask for. And I’m all the more appreciative because I think my best work is in front of me. The bard said there are no second acts in American life. I’ve set about to prove him wrong. We’ll see.”
The Charlie Sizemore Band is Charlie Sizemore (lead vocals, guitar), Danny Barnes (mandolin, vocals), Matt DeSpain (Dobro), John Pennell (bass) and Wayne Fields (banjo). The band is currently on tour and will perform at the 2007 I.B.M.A. World of Bluegrass Conference in October.