Saturday, June 27, 2009

Solo Harmony

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: My Book of Memories
ARTIST: Charlie Louvin
SONGWRITER: Bobby Austin
ALBUM: None, B-side of "I Don't Love You Anymore"
YEAR/LABEL: 1964, Capitol

Any song worth singing is worth singing with harmony.
(Charlie Louvin)

By 1963 Charlie Louvin had taken all he could from his 90-proof brother Ira. After a show where they shared the bill with Ray Price Ira said he was quitting, and Charlie called his bluff. Two weeks later, Charlie appeared on the Grand Ole Opry as a solo act for the first time, launching a career that was more commercially successful than the Louvin Brothers' had been -- although, in retrospect, not nearly as well remembered. That is a shame because Charlie recorded some great work in his solo career.

His new life began on a very high note with the Bill Anderson composition, "I Don't Love You Anymore," complete with its punch line ("trouble is, I don't love you any less"). As fine a tune as that was, the B-side of the 45 held a great treasure in the Bobby Austin song "My Book of Memories."

As it became more and more evident that the Louvin Brothers as an act were falling to pieces faster than a Patsy Cline song Charlie began looking for a replacement. That proved difficult because of the singularly unique quality of Ira's tenor. Amazingly, he found a quality vocalist/mandolin player by the name of Tommy Hagen (who was also a songwriter: he wrote "Oh Lord, My God" on Thank God for My Christian Home, the final album of the Louvin Brothers' career). Hagen accompanied Louvin on tour for a couple of years as well as on "What Can Any Man Do" from Louvin's first solo album (Less and Less and I Don't Love You Anymore) as well as "My Book of Memories."

The results were amazing. Austin's excellent composition (later recorded by George Jones) was elevated by the harmonies Louvin and Hagen delivered. Louvin delivered the lines recalling a broken relationship with marvelous emotion while Hagen joined him in the chorus, providing harmonies that can only be described (at the risk of sounding sarcastic) as Louvinesque.

By the time of Ira's death in 1965 Hagen had left Charlie to go into the ministry. For most of his successful solo era Louvin resorted to using female vocalists because he could not find another tenor singer to match his late brother's work or the gem he had found in Hagen. It was not until he teamed up with Charles Whitstein, the tenor half of the Whitstein Brothers, that he would rediscover the Louvin magic.

Charlie's first solo album has been released on CD (in a double package with Lonesome is Me), but this B-side was omitted. Hopefully one day it will make its way to CD release because it is far too good a song to be left in the "book of memories" of 1964.


The entire Less and Less and I Don't Love You Anymore album -- songs like the Del Reeves composition "I'll Have Made It to the Bridge" are why country music has the reputation for sad songs that it does -- and I mean that as a compliment. This is an outstanding album, not just as a solo debut, but for all times. Louvin was nominated for a "Best New Country Artist" because of this masterpiece.
"Ira" (from Charlie Louvin [2007 CD]) -- Charlie looking back at his life without his brother and partner, realizing that "one day soon I'll join you with the angels" but having to get his feelings out before that happens. This song should've won a Grammy, a CMA award, an ACM award, and every other music award in existence, it's that good.

Lost to a Stranger
A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

New Delhi Freight Train
Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

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