Prescription Bluegrass Reviews New Herschel Sizemore Documentary

Image635150376800111260Reviewed by:  Mark Raborn 

Herschel Sizemore: Mandolin in B is a tribute to mandolin player Herschel Sizemore, whose career spans more than six decades, and whose stylistic influence is inextricably entwined in the fabric of “traditional” Bluegrass mandolin playing.

It is also a celebration, via a “benefit” performance, of Herschel’s musical achievements and his impact on other important mandolin players and musicians of his genre.

Both Herschel and his wife were diagnosed with cancer in 2011. This recording is offered in DVD format as a musical sampling of the event itself, recorded in 2012 in Roanoke, Virginia, and features numerous interviews and commentaries regarding Mr. Sizemore’s career as a mandolin player whose playing style has been emulated throughout the Bluegrass mandolin culture.

Born in 1935, Mr. Sizemore was inspired to play mandolin as a child by listening to Bill Monroe on the Grand Ole Opry in the early 1940’s. He went on to play and record with many of the professional groups from the 1950’s through the 2000’s, including stints with Jimmy Martin, The Country Gentlemen, Del McCoury, The Dixie Gentlemen and for the group for which he is most known to me, The Shenandoah Valley Cut-ups.

Herschel Sizemore’s mandolin playing is both smooth and precise, and, to my ear, generally a bit note-ier than that of Bill Monroe. He is also fluent with the cross-picking style of playing made popular by Jesse McReynolds, but also advanced by Sizemore to countless junior players through the years.

Much of the event focused on Herschel’s masterful ability to play in the Key of B, typically one of the more difficult keys for mandolinists, and other non-capoed instrumentalists. Throughout the recording, Sizemore and other mandolin players, such as Alan Bibey, demonstrate their approach to playing in ‘B’ often supported by groups made up of other superb musicians.

Included in the presentation are numerous commentaries and short interviews with renowned mandolin players like Doyle Image635150379492475254Lawson, David Grisman and Chris Thile, all of which herald Sizemore’s playing as both innovative and influential. Grisman even offers that “Herschel was the most perfect player of his generation.”

Herschel Sizemore: Mandolin in B was both produced and directed by Rick Bowman and the overall quality of the production is excellent. The event itself was a who’s who gathering of some of the most prominent Bluegrass and Acoustic musicians and bands of our era, including Del McCoury, David Grisman, The Seldom Scene, Chris Thile, Alan Bibey and Ronnie Reno. For such notable Bluegrass dignitaries to attend and perform for such a specialized event as a ‘benefit’ is a testimony to the breadth of Mr. Sizemore’s influence, not only as a mandolin player, but as a man.

Herschel Sizemore: Mandolin in B is a must-have for anyone interested in Bluegrass music, particularly its history. It is not only a documentary of one of its most important masters, but an opportunity to see and hear some of the more well-known performers up close.

This offering is masterfully and thoughtfully produced with an abundance of great music and interesting dialogue that make the one hour presentation go by all too quickly. Without hesitation, I confidently recommend this DVD as a high-quality musical and historical presentation that will have you salivating for more…and searching for other Herschel Sizemore recordings.



Mark Raborn is a noted banjo player in multiple genres and a very diversified writer.  From his experiences on stage with Bill Monroe to his writing for “Banjo After Dark,” Mark brings a philosophy of respect for artistic differences.  With so many things like timing, tuning, originality, fidelity, harmony, appeal and flow happening in one recording, Mark says, “It often takes more than one spin to evaluate so many things in a production.


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