At nearly 80 years old, Charlie Louvin isn't about to learn any new tricks. And thankfully, producer Mark Nevers doesn't try to foist any on him. Louvin's self-titled set - his first new studio album in more than 10 years - is a traditional country record with no gratuitous nods to modern arrangements, except for a few sound effects added to "Great Atomic Power." NashVegas was not invited. But special guests do abound, from legends themselves (George Jones, Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare Sr.) to alt-rock kids (Alex McManus of Bright Eyes, Eef Barzalay of Clem Snide) to alt-country practitioners (Tift Merritt, Jeff Tweedy, Paul Burch).
Banjo, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, acoustic guitar, and supportive harmonies are brought forth. The ensemble sound is natural throughout, kept to a small-room ambience and held to a background rumble. And Louvin's beautifully weathered voice is showcased without fanfare.
"Ira," Charlie's tribute to his late brother (who died in a 1965 car crash), is spare and touching. Other highlights are many: "When I Stop Dreaming" with Elvis Costello, "Knoxville Girl" with Will Oldham, "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face" and Jimmie Rodgers's "Waiting for a Train," both with George Jones. It's like getting a letter from an old friend who's doing quite well.