- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2007

A near-capacity crowd passionate about classic country music greeted Charlie Louvin at Jammin’ Java in Vienna Tuesday. Mr. Louvin, touring widely this year to mark his 80th birthday in July, rewarded his fans by dipping deep into his well of hits — both as a solo artist and also with songs recorded with his late brother, Ira, as the Louvin Brothers.

“It’s heck when you start your career over at 80,” Mr. Louvin said to hearty applause about halfway through his first set. He and bass player Brent Wilson sang in close harmony, like the harmony famously recorded by the Louvin Brothers in the 1950s and ‘60s, performing “My Baby’s Gone.”

In two sets spanning a little more than two hours, Mr. Louvin performed 27 songs with a country combo that included his son Sonny Louvin on rhythm guitar and Bob Saxton of Laurel, Miss., on lead.

Mr. Saxton has performed with the band just since Aug. 11. During intermission, he studied charts in the green room to recall songs that he played with Mr. Louvin in 1984, the last time he played in the Louvin band.

Still, with his reverb-cranked, finger-picked leads using a custom guitar equipped with a Bigsby tremelo bridge, Mr. Saxton provided the perfect country tone behind Mr. Louvin’s venerable voice.

Mr. Louvin, who held the microphone in his left hand and rested his right on a microphone stand through most of the show, clearly enjoyed the attention and affection. Whatever his voice might have lost over the years, he more than compensated for with his personable demeanor and down-home charm. He cracked jokes all evening — unflappable even as the band started an occasional song in a key or tempo he didn’t like.

Aside from Louvin Brothers standards — “The Christian Life,” “Cash on the Barrelhead” and “When I Stop Dreaming” — which kick-started the alternative country wave of Gram Parsons and the Byrds in the late 1960s, Mr. Louvin also sang his own country hits, such as “This Darn Pen,” recorded in 1991 with Willie Nelson. Mr. Saxton admirably mimicked Mr. Nelson’s guitar style during the instrumental break.

He also sang “Ira,” a song he co-wrote that appears on his latest disc, “Charlie Louvin.” The song is a tribute to his brother. He closed with “See the Big Man Cry,” which charted at No. 7 in 1965 — the same year Ira Louvin was killed in an auto crash.

Intermittently, he performed songs from Merle Haggard and the Carter Family.

He clearly enjoyed — and deftly harmonized with Mr. Wilson — the yodeling on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting for a Train.”

Introducing “Cry Myself to Sleep” by Bill Anderson, Mr. Louvin cracked, “This is kind of a sad song, and the way I am going to sing it, it’s going to be pitiful.” The song segued into “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” and back.

The crowd brought him back for an encore: “The Family Who Prays Never Shall Part,” a 1958 song from the Louvin Brothers’ days as one of the nation’s top gospel music acts.

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