Heartache Looking For a Home
4 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
I’ve enjoyed watching Charlie Sizemore’s stage show the past few years. I spent an hour a few feet away from him during a workshop, watching as well as listening. He seems like a quirky, offbeat person, at times quick with a sharp, witty remark, but more often seeming reticent, careful with his words. I always get the feeling that what he says is only a small fraction of what is going on in his mind.
He may be the only practicing attorney who is also steadily on the road with a bluegrass band. He spent nine and a half years with Ralph Stanley then, at age twenty-five, went out on his own paying bluegrass while raising a family and going to college. That’s a full-time schedule for anyone. He took a hiatus from 2002 – 2007 (maybe; it seems everyplace I read about Charlie the time period differs) then started touring again. (For more on his life, go to his web page and watch the Gaining Wisdom video.)
Charlie Sizemore is a bluegrass singer. You’re never in doubt about the roots of his music. He’s backed on Heartache Looking For a Home by Danny Barnes (Continental Divide, Pine Mountain Railroad) on mandolin and vocals, Josh McMurray (Larry Sparks’ Lonesome Ramblers) on banjo and vocals, Matt DeSpain (now with J D Crowe) on Dobro and vocals, and John Pennell (who has apparently left the band) on upright bass. Ronnie Stewart guests on fiddle as well as Dr. Ralph Stanley singing on “Red Wicked Wine.”
One of the more cerebral songs on this CD was penned by a master of story telling, Tom T Hall. “Pay No Attention To Alice” is, according to Charlie’s introduction, based on an actual experience in Tom T’s life.
“Pay no attention to Alice, she’s drunk all the time
Hooked on that wine, bunches of it
And it ruined her mind”
Now that’s quite a departure from:
“There’s a happy childhood home in my memory I can see
Standing out upon the hill ‘neath the shadow of the tree”
(“Cabin On The Hill”)
But it’s a great song, a slice of life that’s real and Charlie carries it off as well as Tom T. could.
The title cut was done by the Osborne Brothers back in 1975 (Pickin’ Grass and Singin’ Country) and Charlie wanted to do it Jimmy Martin style. He nails it and the songs lyric lends it to a Jimmy Martin rendition:
“You’re a heartache, lookin’ for a home like a groundhog
Lookin’ for a hole like a hound dog, huntin’ for a bone”
Okay, next song.
One of my favorites is “Red Wicked Wine,” bluesy and with great instrumental work. He first recorded it (as “Wicked Wine”) back in 1986 on Ralph Stanley’s Lonesome and Blue album but in a much different style. I like this version much better. The story of this song is also interesting. It was written by John Preston, composer of “I’ve Just Seen The Rock of Ages.” He’s Charlie’s cousin and, in Charlie’s words, “He’s probably spent about sixty years in prison.”
“No Lawyers In Heaven” is a cute (and pretty close to the mark) commentary on lawyers, especially fitting given his through-the-week vocation. That’s not the only play on words in this collection. Listen to “Walkin’ The Floor Over Me,” a play on the title of Ernest Tubb’s hit, and “I Don’t Remember Loving You,” the 1982 John Conlee hit. I’m still puzzling over the comment by Larry Nager, who wrote the liner notes for the CD: “‘Walking the Floor Over Me’ is by obscure Nashville singer-songwriter Alan Jackson.” Quoting from Wikipedia, “More than 50 of his [Jackson's] singles have appeared on Billboard’s list of the ‘Top 30 Country Songs’. Of Jackson’s entries, 25 were number-one hits.” I can think of hundreds of writers and singers who would love to be that obscure.
Mandolinist Barnes switches to clawhammer banjo and sings a Ralph Stanley standard, “Poor Rambler.” Also included is another Stanley standard, “Going to Georgia.” If you like good instrumentals you won’t be disappointed by DeSpain’s “Fords of Pittman.”
I don’t like every minute of the CD – I’ve never been a fan of “I Don’t Remember Loving You,” despite it being a hit for Conlee, and “Ashley Judd” is cute but I don’t much care if I ever hear it again – but Charlie liked them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taste. I’m certain of one thing, though. As long as bluegrass has singers and writers like Charlie Sizemore it’s in good hands.