September 13, 2008
Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Charlie Louvin (one half of the Louvin Brothers) is full of praise on his latest release Steps to Heaven. By recording a religious album, Louvin expresses his deep devotion to the values espoused by Christianity, but his careful readings of these songs help create a comfort level for any listener, regardless of faith.
The 81-year-old Louvin’s voice is displaying far more character with age. His husky, gritty turn on the album’s fiercest tracks are joined by a ragged, rough take on a number of these sacred songs. The production handled by Mark Nevers is never overdone, leaving Louvin’s accurate evaluations of these songs to stand alone, without the studio tricks that can plague many country-rooted albums. However, the harmony singing (the album’s mood is assisted by a gospel choir) do tend to surpass Louvin’s well-weathered vocal stylings.
It’s that remarkable talent from Louvin that carries the songs, the sound of experience emitted from a man who has searched far and wide for the answers to his day-to-day questions. Secular fans, life-long Christians and new disciples to country music will all appreciate this fascinating experience, as the stories in these songs make a strong impact, especially since this message is sent from a man who has, for the lack of a better word, lived.
What makes the album remarkable is the anticipation, no fear here, that Louvin holds of making the trip to the other side . Songs like “I Feel Like Traveling On” and “I Am Bound for the Promised Land”, an excellent pair of songs to close the album, are single-handedly focused on the task at hand. That assignment, to prepare for the coming glory, can appeal to a secular audience in its message of hope, faith and optimism, even in the face of struggle.
On Steps to Heaven, Louvin is best with little support. On a couple tracks, most notably on “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be”, he’s slightly overwhelmed by the choir’s robust backing vocals. The combination is much better on “Just Rehearsing”, with a joyous piano joined with Louvin’s matchless, often jagged voice. The two finest efforts on the album, “Where We’ll Never Grow Old” and “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven” are full of raw emotion and are left with Louvin unaccompanied but for his harmony help and the clean instrumentation that’s clear throughout the album.
Steps from Heaven is a sweet victory for Louvin, and shows that music at its deepest is capable of having a highly redemptive quality. It will stand as a milestone in a career that continues to break new ground.