Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Loving Tribute

Category: Review

One listen to most of the songs on Charlie Louvin's eponymous new album and it is painfully obvious that his voice is way past its prime. Louvin must be aware of this, as he has enlisted a number of artists as diverse as George Jones and Elvis Costello to help him through eleven old songs, most of them Louvin Brothers classics such as "When I Stop Dreaming" (where Costello shines and proves that he could have had a great career in country music) and "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face."

The other major problem with the new CD is that a number of these songs have been on every album Louvin has released in the past 20 years. "When I Stop Dreaming" has appeared on Louvin's last four releases, including two back-to-back albums he did with Charles Whitstein. Louvin has commented on a number of occasions that he feels he, not Ira, should've handled lead vocal chores on the Louvin Brothers' 1955 breakthrough hit, and apparently he's out to reissue the song on every album for the rest of his life in an attempt to prove his point. (Louvin first recorded a solo version of "When I Stop Dreaming" in 1967 on I'll Remember Always.)

With all its flaws, Charlie Louvin contains an absolute gem: "Ira," the only new song on the CD. On this song, Charlie pays tribute to his late brother (as he did on the title track of I'll Remember Always). In this case, his frail voice actually enhances the song. The old man singing the song is looking back on a long life, better of half of which has been spent without his only brother (the Louvin Brothers were the only two boys out of a family of seven children). The memories obviously haunt him ("Your voice is strong even though you're gone, 'cause I still hear your part"), and he sings as though he's getting a weight off his shoulders. This is obviously something Charlie had to sing, a mixture of praise for his late brother ("You had a way of writing songs from the heart") and acknowledgement that his own career is nearing its end ("One day soon I'll sing with you and the angels"). Charlie Louvin has been nominated for Grammy awards and his solo career generated better sales than the Louvin Brothers enjoyed during their career; however, he has never had a moment in his solo life to equal this.

For all the weak versions of Louvin Brothers classics on the CD Charlie Louvin, the song "Ira" is an must-hear. It is a loving memorial to one of the greatest singers and songwriters country music has known, performed by the only person who could deliver it with such emotion and heart.


Tompkins Square Label said...

Hi KF,
Louvin's management and label here.

Glad you enjoyed "Ira."

Of course Charlie's voice is past it's prime. That prime was over 50 years ago. Does that mean that he, or others past their prime, like Stanley, Jones, Wagoner, or Price, cannot and should not convey from the heart, even though their voices are now grizzled with age ?

While most 80 year olds are sipping oatmeal through a straw, Charlie is on the road with Lucinda Williams, playing festivals like Bonnaroo and Hardly Strictly, and doing what he LIVES to do.

90% of the reviews have been great (4 stars in Mojo, Uncut, Ent Wkly A-, on and on), and the only negative ones seem to be from people like yourself who say he sounds too old. We should all have as much to give as Charlie Louvin when/if we reach his age.

As for the re-recording of Louvins songs, we chose songs that people shouldn't forget. Hopefully geared at a younger audience who are not as familiar as you are with his career. This is Charlie's first nationally distributed album since the Watermelon record, and you are incorrect about "Knoxville Girl" appearing on his last four releases. "When I Stop Dreaming" hasn't been on a nationally distributed Louvin record since the late 90s.

Charlie has a live CD coming out October 30th. Neither "When I Stop Dreaming" nor "Knoxville Girl" are on the record. But there are pretty great new versions of "Cash on the Barrelhead" and "The Christian Life !"


Tompkins Square Label

Raizor's Edge said...

Dear Tompkins Square,

Thanks for reading and replying.

You're correct, it was an error on my part: it is "When I Stopped Dreaming" that has appeared on the last four Charlie Louvin albums (track #2 on Hoping That You're Hoping, track #1 on Live in Holland, track #1 on the Watermelon Charlie Louvin album, and now track #5 on the Tompkins Square label), not "Knoxville Girl." Nevertheless, that's just too many times to keep redoing a song. I'd say the same thing if George Jones kept re-recording "The Window Up Above" on every album he puts out. There are just too many great Louvin Brothers songs -- or, for that matter, too many great songs in Charlie's solo career ("I'll Have Made It to the Bridge" is on my list of songs everyone should hear) to keep rehashing two or three songs, especially when those songs are the first songs put on every Louvin Brothers compilation.

I still consider Charlie Louvin a national treasure. I just think he should give us more songs like "Ira," which proves he can still break hearts, and less feedback-cluttered versions of songs that are available in their original, glorious versions.