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    tragic songs of life

    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 this page last updated 22/07/07

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