Born the same year as Ralph Stanley and growing up very similarly on a hardscrabble Appalachian farm, Charlie Louvin gained fame in a brother act, too. Like the Stanleys, Charlie (1927–2011) and Ira (1924–65) Louvin made songs their mother taught them cornerstones of their repertoire. The songwriting elder brother in each pair drove it to eventual success, until Ira's alcoholism broke up their act, leaving the sober sibling to carry on, to greater fortune. It would be false, however, to say that Charlie achieved greater repute on his own, for he and Ira had set the gold standard for harmony singing in country music. They did it by ear and intuition, Charlie reveals, freely exchanging melodic and harmonic lines in the same song, though Ira invariably sang the highest notes.
Louvin concentrates on his and Ira's relationship in this book, completed just two months before his death. Collaborator Whitmer wisely lets it seem entirely an as-told-to effort, like Stanley's beautifully vernacular Man of Constant Sorrow (2009). Though probably as religious, Louvin is an earthier speaker than Stanley, more personally revealing, too, so that his is a case study vis-à-vis the social history Stanley affords. It's no less marvelous, though—a real classic of Americana. --Ray Olson