Charlie Louvin

Steps to Heaven – 2008 (Tompkins Square)

Reviewed by Don Armstrong

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CDs by Charlie Louvin

Charlie Louvin is back with one of the most straightforward gospel albums of his long, distinguished career, and hosannas are in order. At 81, he's hardly the same singer who elevated the art of tight harmonies with his brother, Ira, in the 1940s and '50s. However, collaboration is no less vital on this, his third studio album of the last three years(!). The Lord may have to wait a while to reclaim the younger Mr. Louvin.

Louvin is in fine voice, but it is the strident, starchy piano work of Derrick Lee that gives the album its direction. One gets the sense of having wandered into a Harlem storefront church on Sunday morning. That soulful spirit is bolstered by a stripped-down arrangement that features Regina and Ann McCrary and Alfreda McCrary Lee singing backup and Chris Scruggs on bass and guitar. In that environment, Louvin shines. They all do, particularly on the lively There's a Higher Power and Just Rehearsing and on the heartfelt If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven, which Louvin punctuates with a startling wail. Amen, brother.