The second of Charlie Louvin
's two albums for Tompkins Square in 2008, Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs
is partially an inhouse project, as Louvin
was partially inspired by the label's majestic box set collection from the previous year, People Take Warning!
, an overview of many examples of the form from the early 20th century. Louvin
's rough, weathered voice is many years removed from the clean, soaring work of his Louvin Brothers
heyday but his joy in the material is audible, and as a re-encapsulation of the country and folk traditions he grew up with and helped shape, the album's a lovely treat. He revisits a number of songs he recorded with brother Ira
, including "Katy Dear" and "Mary of the Wild Moor," an enjoyable instance of compare-and-contrast where these versions still work just fine on their own. His choice of song about the Titanic's sinking, perhaps an inevitable choice given the album's theme, is an inspired one -- "Down with the Old Canoe" a less familiar entry that concentrates on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from unpreparedness in the face of doom -- and his voice, especially on the conclusion with a repetition of the final line, suits the material perfectly. Hearing Chris Scruggs
' marvelous steel guitar breakdown on "Wreck of the Old 97" is almost reason enough to listen in, but the whole ensemble backing Louvin
knows their stuff, while Scruggs
and fellow guitarist Ben Hall add gentle backing vocals along the way as well. Holly George-Warren
's accompanying essay/interview and Joshua Black Wilkins
' photography flesh out the overall release excellently.