When Charlie Louvin sings, "Why must you come back and haunt me?" he could be talking about his brother Ira, who died in a 1965 car accident. Or he might be referring to George Jones, whose guest vocal rises up from Charlie Louvin's first song, "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face," like a drunk from the middle of a dark country lane. Along with its array of famous singers deployed in cameos that sometimes last only a few seconds, Charlie Louvin puts the 79-year-old country star's thick, patient, and somewhat inexpressive voice front and center, with the likes of Jones, Elvis Costello, Bobby Bare, and Marty Stuart filling the void Ira left. Ira's inspired, reckless mandolin playing and superb vocal harmonies powered the Louvin Brothers' best work—no other country act managed to sound so pious about murder and apocalypse. And while Charlie producer Mark Nevers doesn't attempt to reproduce that interplay here, he decorates stark celebrations like "Knoxville Girl" and "The Great Atomic Power" with light irony—the latter stirs in creepy children's vocals, a wash of feedback guitar, and a few harmonies from Jeff Tweedy. It's hard to tell whether Charlie relishes the prospect of an explosion "blotting out the works of man," but that indifference is a perk of age. Still, when he sings "Ira," you know he misses his brother for sure.
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