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Album review: Charlie Louvin's 'Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs'

December 8, 2008 |  3:00 pm

Louvin_240 Charlie Louvin, half of the celebrated Louvin Brothers, was raised with his late brother, Ira, on songs about tragedy and human frailty. At 81, Louvin has returned to that wellspring for his latest collection, "Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs," which brims with an off-the-street immediacy more common to rap. Even though some of the material here was written nearly a century ago, the emotions the songs evoke are ever-relevant.

Where titillation is often the alpha and omega of reality television, tragic songs can operate on a higher level both through the music in which the tales are couched as well as the life and spiritual lessons they typically contain. "Wreck of the Old 97" has been a cornerstone of the country and bluegrass repertoire for decades. It tackles the theme of haste as it applies to human endeavor, in this case a train engineer who tempts fate as he hurries to get to his destination. And there's a moral to the story:

Now ladies you must take this warning

From this time on

Never speak harsh words to your true lovin husband

He may leave you and never return

Louvin's weathered voice lends an air of authenticity a younger singer might have trouble matching, and the lean, predominantly acoustic arrangements add to the feeling that we're not merely being entertained but also enlightened.

-- Randy Lewis

Charlie Louvin
"Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs"
(Tompkins Square)
* * * (3 stars)