The problem with the modern "duets" album—as pioneered by Frank Sinatra and other old-timers—is that there's rarely any real collaboration. Veteran singers belt out impersonal renditions of boring old standards while a young buck with commercial cachet awkwardly adds a few lines, most likely at a separate session. But on the Josh Rosenthal-conceived, Mark Nevers-produced Charlie Louvin, the elder statesman of country-gospel interacts with peers like George Jones and Tom T. Hall as well as left-field partners like Will Oldham and Eef Barzelay, and on each song, the voices rise to meet each other. While singing the Louvin Brothers classic "The Christian Life" with Clem Snide singer Barzelay, Louvin croons more, matching Barzelay's lilt. With Elvis Costello on "When I Stop Dreaming," Louvin goes more throaty and whispery. Whether the duet-ers actually met or not, Charlie Louvin at least creates the illusion of two people singing together, sharing a moment.
The album also consciously positions Louvin on the country continuum, mixing his own songs, like the cautionary sing-along "Great Atomic Power" (performed with Jeff Tweedy), with genre classics like The Carter Family's "Worried Man Blues" (sung with Bobby Bare Sr. and Lambchop's Kurt Wagner). Like June Carter Cash's Wildwood Flower and Johnny Cash's "American" records, Charlie Louvin spans folktales, spirituals, and celebratory jigs, showcasing the richness of the roots-music songbook as well as Louvin's own ashy voice. The album closes with Charlie Monroe's "My Long Journey Home," featuring David Kilgour on lead guitar and throwback C&W hero Paul Burch on guest vocals. The trio plays and sings with the warmth and immediacy of an old radio broadcast, and while some might say they sound old, others would use the word "timeless."