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    Louvin Brothers

    tragic songs of life satan is real

    Tragic Songs Of Life 8 ( 1956 )
    Kentucky / I'll Be All Smiles Tonight / Let Her Go God Bless Her / What Is Home Without Love / A Tiny Broken Heart / In The Pines / Alabama / Katie Dear / My Brothers Will / Knoxvile Girl / Take The News To Mother / Mary Of The Wild Moor

    American Country Music Hall of Fame, Ira and Charlie Louvin are the most influential harmony duo in country music history. There's a direct line from the Delmore Brothers to the Louvin Brothers to the Everly Brothers to The Beatles. The Louvin Brothers were one of the acts that Elvis toured with in the 1950s at the start of his career. The Louvin Brothers enjoyed their success in the fifties, after a war interrupted, early career singing gospel material. Come 1956, 'Tragic Songs Of Life' became their first LP. They know how to pick their material, although were also able to compose their own songs, too. 'In The Pines' may be known to many via the Nirvana take of the leadbelly version, 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night'. A title such as 'Knoxville Girl' may or may not hint to you that Bob Dylan is a big admirer of the Louvin Brothers, even publicly stating as much, quite a rare thing for Bob to have done. Anyway, 'Tragic Songs Of Life' is a title that contains songs about death, cheating, lying, stealing and drinking. The fires of hell and redemption are never far from the surface, either. So, Ira plays the mandolin, Charlie plucks the guitar. We have bass and drums and lots of space in the songs for the brothers impressive harmony singing. Now, i'm no huge fan of country music beyond the obvious names such as Cash, Emmylou, Laura Cantrell, etc. Yet, there is a feeling in these harmony vocals that's hard to pinpoint. their harmonies sound on first glance deceptively simple, yet listen carefully to what's going on and one voice keeps it straight before reaching upwards and the other voice is seemingly able to go through several octaves to reach the final, full throated, high tenor harmony effect. I'm also not a vocal coach, so I don't know if what i've just said is technically accurate. I don't care about that, anyway. All I know is that Elvis Costello is a fan, Wilco are fans, Lambchop. These guys have influenced many of the newer alternative country acts. There is the ages of history in the vocals, from the 50s to the 30s and beyond.

    The uptempo 'Kentucky' kicks things off, demonstrating fine Mandolin playing from Ira, 'In The Pines' is fairly astonishing vocally and you really get to feel the words and the song. Stupendous mandolin opens up 'Alabama' whilst 'I'll Be All Smiles Tonight' showcases the vocals very well. The musical backing is as simple as simple can be, slightly hokey country music even, yet the voices telling their tale draw you in. 'A Tiny Broken Heart' is a tremendous song performed well and again the voices tug at the heartstrings. It's interesting hearing future echoes of Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers as well as The Everly Brothers. 'Katie Dear' is a further highlight, the same song Joan Baez does as 'Silver Dagger'. The Louvin Brothers could do blues, folk and country and the feeling in the vocals surely comes from their time spent singing gospel tunes. Add in a little delightful mandolin break and you have much of their sound. The album gets better every listen and is oh so easy to actually listen to, extra layers of meaning and depth come through with repeated listenings. Reccomended stuff.

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    top of page Satan Is Real 9 ( 1960 )
    Satan Is Real / There's a Higher Power / The Christian Life / The River Jordan / The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea / Are You Afraid to Die / He Can Be Found / Dying from Home, and Lost / The Drunkard's Doom / Satan's Jeweled Crown / The Angels Rejoiced Last Night / I'm Ready to Go Home

    I must admit, country music is not my speciality. Scotland seems to like country music, yet it is hardly a genre the UK generally 'gets'. Yet, I listen and recognise the sound, the ideas. You may have a banjo, an acoustic guitar and strong harmony vocals. I am always a sucker for harmony vocals as many of you may know, especially when the singers are family - brothers or cousins. From Charlie, He knew when it was going too high for me and would step up - that is something you only get from brothers / family members. The known murder ballad 'Knoxville Girl' actually has origins in the folk scene of the UK where you had all sorts of 'death' songs. 'Satan Is Real' is this albums title and what a title it is. A deeply religious album, with the title track, and also 'This Christian Life' which The Byrds covered when they briefly went country. It seems as with 'Tragic Songs Of Life' that Louvin Brothers excelled at marrying excellent melodies and harmonies (which often 'were' the melodies) to traditional songs, almost rejoicing in doom and downbeat gloom. The album cover features the brothers posing in front of hell flames and the devil. Anyway, to the music on offer.

    The Brothers excellent harmonies are here, present and correct. The title track opens and reveals, clearly, their religious beliefs, you could hear this in church these days and not blink. Charlie and Ira sound heartfelt, rather than sounding like they are preaching or trying to convert anybody. You get a passage of spoken words stating god is real, Satan is real and heaven is real then the track goes back to the lovely melodies and harmonies. 'There Is A Higher Power' does what it says on the tin yet with brilliant guitar melodies. Oh, I stole this bit from nodepression.com, well worth a visit. Chris Hillman, bassist from The Byrds and frequent collaborator with Gram Parsons, said of the Louvins, “The way they stacked their harmonies gave you goose-bumps. The Beatles picked that up from the Everly Brothers, who were influenced by the Louvins.”

    Ira was starting to descend into alcoholism about the time this record was recorded, and they had not had a hit single in three years. So, how come this album is just so good? The tension perhaps? When we get to 'The Christian Life' you realise how pale a copy of this song The Byrds produced. Roger McGuinn and acclaimed country/pop singer Gram Parsons really did not get anywhere near the quality on offer here. Boy, I love this electric guitar sound, which is almost Rock n Roll guitar. They were apparently advised to update their sound which I guess explains this. You then have the Christian based lyrics and the quite frankly wonderful vocals.

    All the songs here are good, and I love the electric guitar update over the acoustic guitar they used to offer. Of other songs present, 'He Can Be Found' is a lovely ballad with lovely vocals and then follow by a more upbeat 'Dying From Home And Lost'. Well, of course, I am being mischievous. The music and vocals are sunny, happy and the lyrics are death and dying - almost like Morrissey 25 years early. To continue such a trend, 'The Drunkards Doom' which might be the life story of many. We finish off with 'I'm Ready To Go Home' - a sentiment many of us have felt, no doubt.

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    top of page this page last updated 23/08/20

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