Charlie Louvin (Tompkins Square)
Johnny Cash’s big ’90s resurgence set the standard for country artists making a comeback: hard, traditional and edgy like the hipster set likes it. Loretta Lynn also caught that message, and when former country hit maker Porter Wagoner’s projected next album comes out on the Anti- label later this year, we wouldn’t be surprised if that had the same vibe. In the meantime, we have the new reentry from Charlie Louvin, who in the ’50s was one-half of the Louvin Brothers (along with his late brother, Ira). Naturally, he has a gang of country-leaning rockers like Will Oldham and Jeff Tweedy helping him out, but rather than coming out of the corner snarling and kicking ass like Cash and Lynn, the mood is mellow and almost nostalgic. And it works.
Age has brought a certain gravity to the country legend’s voice after all this time. When he’s dueting with artists who are roughly his contemporaries (like the slightly younger George Jones, Tom T. Hall and Bobby Bare), the effect is of a bunch of guys sitting around the general store swapping stories. When he has members of the alt-country elite guesting, it’s like he’s generously showing the younger set how it’s done. As melancholy as these songs are, there is a definite lack of angst. Even songs like “Grave On The Green Hillside” and “Blues Stay Away From Me” all sound a little more jaunty and upbeat than they should—any other singer would have worried these songs to death, but Louvin makes them sound content without being disturbing. With this album, Louvin proves that after 60-odd years in the business he can stay true to himself and still hit it once more with feeling.—James Porter