Saturday, December 19, 2009

True Love's a Blessing

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Rose of My Heart
ARTIST: Whitstein Brothers
SONGWRITER: Hugh Moffatt
ALBUM: Rose of My Heart
YEAR/LABEL: 1984; Rounder

That's a great love song, and it's exactly how I feel.
(Charles Whitstein)

In baseball, there's "Ruthian," a term used to describe a home run that's along the lines of what Babe Ruth might have hit. In country music, it's "Louvinesque" to describe harmonies. Granted, it is not used much,
for a good reason: there simply are not many harmonies that come close to the Louvin Brothers.

Enter Robert and Charles Whitstein, two boys from central Louisiana. They grew up idolizing the Louvins, and as fate would have it the younger brother, Charles, developed a tenor voice not unlike Ira's, so much so that he would eventually stand next to Charlie Louvin onstage re-creating the songs of the Louvins for much of the early 1990s.

The Whitstein Brothers were pretty much at the wrong place at the wrong time early in their career. Just as they had made successful guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry as teenagers and toured with fellow Louisiana native Faron Young, the draft called and both boys sang for Uncle Sam in the Marines (Robert in Vietnam, Charles in the Marine Corps Reserves stateside). Things were put on hold as both men married and raised families, although they sang in churches and local festivals.

Jesse McReynolds brought them to the attention of Rounder Records and they were signed in 1983. Their debut album, 1984's Rose of My Heart, made many people sit up and take notice courtesy of their superb harmonies on a collection of songs, mostly old with a few surprises (such as a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water"). The album opened with the title song, a Hugh Moffatt composition that easily was one of the greatest love songs of the 1980s. The Whitsteins' vocal performance turned it into one of the great recordings of the decade as well.

The tune is the perfect song for the perfect marriage. "We're the best partners this world's ever seen," the song begins. The lyrics describe what God intended marriage to be. "You are the love of my life," the chorus says, adding at the conclusion, "You're my harbor in life's restless storm."

The Whitstein Brothers continued their recording career, tours and frequent appearances on the Grand Ole Opry until Robert suffered a fatal heart attack in November 2001. Charles toured briefly with friend Jesse McReynolds before retiring from the music business.

With all the headlines about messy divorces and cheating spouses it is most comforting to hear a song about enduring love. It is also most enjoyable to hear a song about enduring love with great harmonies as provided by the Whitstein Brothers.


The entire Old Time Duets album
-- nominated for a "best folk album" recording in 1989, this album contains the very old (traditional songs such as "Beautiful Lost River Valley") and the more recent (Hank Williams' "Mansion on the Hill"), recorded with just two voices, a mandolin (or tenor guitar on the Delmore Brothers' "Weary Lonesome Blues") and guitar. The more sparse the sound is the better it is, and this is about as good as it gets.

"What a Change One Day Can Make" (from Sweet Harmony) -- the cover of a latter Louvins song shows exactly why Charlie Louvin once said that, as a tenor singer, "Charles Whitstein is as close to Ira as I've ever heard."

"The High Cost of Living" (from Trouble Ain't Nothin' But the Blues) -- an old song with a very modern theme.

"Smoky Mountain Memories" (from Rose of My Heart) -- a minor hit for Mel Street gets a gorgeous harmony treatment.


Rock of Ages, Hide Thou Me
Our Town
Old Memories Mean Nothing to Me
Not That I Care
Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
My Book of Memories
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

Starting Tomorrow
Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
She's a Runaway
Painted Bells
Out to Sea
One More Song
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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