December 18, 2008

"SINGING SHOULD HAVE HARMONY":

Charlie Louvin Sings Bloody Murder (JIM FUSILLI, 12/17/08, Wall Street Journal)

At age 81, Charlie Louvin brings his lengthy career full circle with his new album released on Tuesday. "Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs" (Tompkins Square) includes three numbers he first recorded 52 years ago on "Tragic Songs of Life" (Gusto), his debut album with his brother Ira. The Louvin Brothers, members of the Grand Ole Opry, performed together until 1963; Ira was killed in a car crash two years later. (The duo were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.) Their music influenced Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, among others, and what was to become country rock. [...]

"Murder Ballads" was inspired in part by the recent "People Take Warning! Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs 1913-1938" (Tompkins Square), a three-CD set of classic folk, country and blues tunes of death and destruction that served to spread bad news beyond existing media. He chose five songs from the set, including "Wreck of the Old 97," the horrifying story of a fatal 1903 train derailment in Virginia; "Down With the Old Canoe," about the sinking of the Titanic; and "The Little Grave in Georgia," inspired by the 1913 rape and murder of Mary Phagan. He also covers "Wreck on the Highway," a long-ago hit for Roy Acuff, which tells of a deadly alcohol-soaked car accident.

"When you start talking about whiskey and blood -- that's very neglectful," he said. "That's murder."

The conversation turned to "Katy Dear," "My Brother's Will" and "Mary of the Wild Moor," the three songs he revived from the album he cut with his brother in 1956. Though the harmonies are different from the ones he and Ira employed, they add a teardrop to the sad tales.

"I love harmonies with a passion," he said. "It's what I did with my brother for 23 years. I think a song that has singing should have harmony."

Though Ira's drinking and hot temper caused the act to break up, on stage Charlie Louvin still hears their voices joining together. "I can be at the microphone and when it's time for the harmony to come in I'll make room for him, knowing full well there's no one to my right I should scoot for."

Mr. Louvin's solo career is well into its fourth decade.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2008 7:06 AM
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