The Story Is... - The Songs Of Tom T. Hall
Rebel Records, 2002
REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/04/2002
There are very few authentic storytellers in American music, and fewer still are still alive. Harry Chapin's songs ended on an interstate highway, Jim Croce died in a plane, and while Johnny Cash is still plugging along, we all kind of watch the news with a worried eye most days. So I admit with a shamefaced look that my CD collection overlooks a great storyteller I'd forgotten -- country vocalist and songwriter Tom T. Hall. Hall's particularly ironic turns of phrase and dry narrative style has resulted in some of the greatest songs ever recorded that, dammit, I'd forgotten about. I have fond memories, almost forgotten until now, of listening to Hall's "Little Lady Preacher" on the eight-track player in my grandmother's Ford LTD.
So I'd like to, right here, thank bluegrass vocalist and Ralph Stanley protégé Charlie Sizemore for bringing them back to my attention, and I'm going to rectify this little oversight as soon as possible. (In fact, I'm logging onto CDNow in another window.)
Which means, I suppose, The Story Is… did exactly what it was supposed to do; highlight some damn good songs while still giving them a unique stamp. Kudos to Sizemore; this is a fine piece of work. He delivers Hall's songs with his own style while still paying an honest homage to a great, great songwriter. The production is impeccable; clear, crystalline, and uncomplicated, it features fine instrumental work (including Sizemore's own picked guitar, John Golden's banjo, and Randy Kohrs on dobro) uncluttered by any effects-driven nonsense.
There isn't a bad track on this CD, but special note has to be given to the rich harmonies of "Pamela Brown", the poignant "I Flew Over Our House Last Night" (with great harmony vocals from longtime country vocalist Kathy Mattea), and a straightforward performance of "Ballad Of Forty Dollars" that nevertheless captures the song perfectly. The highlight has to be the twin wistfulness and guilt of "Old Dogs, Children, And Watermelon Wine" and "Maggie's At The Lincoln Park Inn"; Sizemore takes these songs, two of Hall's better known tracks, and makes them his own with a gentle delivery that really lets the songs take center stage.
Sizemore should be congratulated; The Story Is… is an effective tribute to a sadly underappreciated songwriter. This CD should not be missed for fans of well-written songs. (I wonder what Sizemore could have done with "Little Lady Preacher".)
For more information, please visit Rebel Records's Web site.