Most music legends wouldn't think to compare themselves to a jackass. But 80-year-old country pioneer Charlie Louvin finds pride and a sense of loyalty in the association. Overworked, a horse will go on strike, he says. But "a mule will work until he falls dead. I suppose a horse has got more sense, but not nearly as much dependability as a mule."
Charlie — along with his brother Ira — formed the basis of the Louvin Brothers during the 1940s, sowing seeds of melodic harmony that sprouted acts from the Everly Brothers to the Byrds to today's alt-country cowboys. Louvin has played with both Elvises — touring with Presley in the '50s and recording with Costello, who helps out on Louvin's new self-titled album. (The disc also features collaborations with Jeff Tweedy, Will Oldham, and Bright Eyes' Alex McManus.)
Louvin doesn't rock on the record; he doesn't even alt-country. In fact, his style of country music is so pure, you'll never hear him slotted between Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney on the radio stations he helped advance back in the day. "I don't knock nobody's music, but if you're gonna sing rock and roll, do it," says Louvin. "But don't cut rock and roll and call it country." The best songs on his new CD blend sadness and joy, telling "the story of the workin' man" and paying tribute to his late brother, who was killed in a 1965 car accident. "I think it helps us to hurt a little," says Louvin. "If you don't hurt a little, you don't appreciate feeling good."