This week's round-up includes a couple of CDs that are notable enough to deserve their own articles. First we go way back with country music legend Charlie Louvin. Then we look to the future of the blues with The Soul of John Black. Finally we return to the present state of country music with the multi-talented journeyman musician Ted Russell Kamp. Time travel is our middle name here at the Indie Round-Up!
Charlie Louvin, Charlie Louvin
You can teach new tricks to some old dogs. Johnny Cash and Rod Stewart revitalized their careers by going in unexpected musical directions. Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin ain't one of those guys. Louvin, all 79 years old of him, has a new CD out that should please both longtime fans and younger ones, but that's because of his weathered, fragile, but still expressive voice, and these great old songs. This music goes back to the fifties and sixties, long enough ago that it surpasses nostalgia and becomes educational and - for younger folks, anyway - something like new again. A Louvin Brothers tribute album won two Grammy awards in 2004.
For this project Louvin and producer Mark Nevers re-recorded some tracks from the singer's early days as half of the Louvin Brothers, like "The Christian Life," along with some other country chestnuts like "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea." Louvin sings the latter - a song Cash also recorded late in life - exquisitely, with harmonies from Bright Eyes's Alex McManus. In fact every song but one has a guest artist or two, making this yet another "duets" album, but that's appropriate considering how well known the Louvin Brothers were for their close, gospel-derived harmonies. The simple, traditional arrangements make the CD seem organic, not contrived (as long as we agree not to talk about the silly feedback sounds on "Great Atomic Power.")
Not all the pairings work equally well. Contributions from Will Oldham and Paul Burch make for sweet listening, but Louvin's soft, deep, grainy voice makes Tift Merritt and Clem Snide's Eef Barzalay sound like lightweights, and George Jones sounds weak on "Must You Throw Dirt In My Face." Dianne Berry contributes angelic harmony vocals, Marty Stuart's light touch on the mandolin is a joy, and Elvis Costello, who has evidently signed a contract with the Muses guaranteeing him an appearance on every duet or tribute album ever made hereinafter and throughout the Universe, has a surprisingly touching turn on "When I Stop Dreaming."